The New Jersey Education Association’s PAC played it pretty safe with its endorsements, choosing mostly incumbents. But in the 39th district, the union backed an entire slate of Democratic challengers against three Republican incumbents.
“We’re excited and proud that NJEA has agreed to endorse the full slate,” said Jennifer Chirco, the campaign manager for the 39th district Democrats. “We value the association and really appreciate them lending their support
The teachers’ union picked Democrat Joe Ariyan for state Senate, along with Esther Fletcher and Carl Manna for Assembly. Not getting the nod were state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, Assemblyman John Rooney and Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk.
It was no surprise to Rooney. A long time NJEA foe due in part to his opposition to teacher tenure, he threw out the group’s questionnaire upon receipt and chose not to visit with its endorsement panel. Cardinale said he met with the group to “share ideas and thoughts,” but never expected to get their endorsement. Vandervalk, on the other hand, was taken aback.
“I had every indication that they were going to endorse me,” said Vandervalk. “When I left that interview I felt like they had indicated to me that it would happen.”
Unlike her two running mates, Vandervalk has been endorsed by the group before – most recently in 2003. And with her endorsement this year by the AFL-CIO, the NJEA didn’t seem like a far-fetched prospect. Ultimately, she said, the all-Democratic endorsement was likely due to “political pressure.”
Rooney said that it was a “foregone conclusion” that all three Democrats would get the nomination because Fletcher’s husband, Patrick Fletcher, is Superintendent of the River Dell school system.
“I didn’t show up at their thing because I know I’m not going to get endorsed….. Why should I waste my time?” said Rooney.
But Chirco, the campaign manager, called Rooney’s charge “silly,” and noted that Esther Fletcher worked for years as a teacher.
“If you’ve been in office since 1983, if you have a record that supports the issues that are important to NJEA and students throughout the state, then you have no reason not to go before your peers," said Chirco.