GOP Freeholder candidate torn between loyalties to Christie and teachers union

In Passaic County, Republican freeholder candidate Deborah Ciambrone could be in a bit of an awkward position.

Ciambrone is on the ticket under GOP gubernatorial nominee Christopher Christie, who has spent much of his campaign talking tough to public employees' unions – including the New Jersey Educational Association (NJEA), which is expected to be a major cog in Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's get-out-the-vote operation. And Ciambrone, an 8th grade social studies teacher in Bloomingdale, was until this year a NJEA delegate assembly member, and she still works part-time as a consultant for the union.

Ciambrone said that when she first heard of Christie's decision not to seek the group's endorsement, she was "disappointed." But her opinion changed after learning that Christie expressed willingness to sit down with the group.

"As far as seeking the endorsement, I guess I could say very frankly, what were his odds of getting it? Although NJEA does at times endorse Republicans – for example they do endorse [Assemblyman] Scott Rumana – I think realistically they are going to endorse Corzine. So if he's willing to sit and talk with them, I am not so concerned with him going for the endorsement."

The union's president, Joyce Powell, characterized Christie's decision not to seek their endorsement as a snub, and Christie has spent a major part of his campaign calling for reforms like school vouchers and merit pay – issues the union opposes. Ciambrone is sympathetic with the union on that front.

"I think with any candidate you have to look at everything they're saying. You may not agree with everything they say, but you may support them anyway. So you have to look at the bigger picture," she said. "So no, I would have a concern with school vouchers and merit pay."

The NJEA's endorsement of Rumana factored into last month's primary campaign against him, when challengers Joe Caruso and Anthony Rottino used it to equate him with Democratic politicians.

A spokesman for GOP Strong, the splinter group that backed the rival candidates to Rumana as well as a challenge to his chairmanship of the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization, took issue with Ciambrone's role in the teachers' union.

"GOP Strong and Joe Caruso applauded Chris Christie's stand on the NJEA because there has to be fundamental change in how the state deals with public employee unions… Christie is sending a message of change to the GOP. But some people aren't listening," said Republican consultant Thom Ammirato. "Having a member of public employee union run for public office says that Republicans are no different than Democrats when it comes to pandering to union demands. We know if a public employee union member is elected to office, he or she will vote to support higher wages and benefits for union workers in the county."

Ciambrone said that she attended a Passaic County Republican unity breakfast on Saturday, where she saw the rival Republican group's chairman, Michael Mecca.

"We are trying very hard to stay unified," she said.


GOP Freeholder candidate torn between loyalties to Christie and teachers union