Three long-shot Assembly candidates today accused Gov. Jon Corzine of using his personal wealth to silence influential members of the black community on an issue they say they are their allies on: school vouchers.
"We strongly believe that school choice is the way out. Many of these ministers have advocated the same thing, and ultimately you've seen the damaging impacts of Corzine's money," said Barry Funt, a Republican running for assembly in District 27 who has organized a group of mostly Republican Assembly challengers called "Citizens for Assembly."
Funt was joined by two black Assembly candidates – Herbert Glenn, a Republican running in District 28; and Rev. Clenard Childress, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent who is running in District 34. Districts 28 and 34 are heavily Democratic.
At issue were the recent revelations that Corzine's philanthropic foundation last year gave $87,000 to the church of influential Reverend Reginald Jackson – who heads the Black Ministers Council and endorsed Corzine this month — and $1 million three years ago to the Camden County nonprofit organization and church run by Rev. Bishop David G. Evans, who is a member of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's board.
"When you have a job that basically appears to be appointed by Democrats in New Jersey already and you're receiving cash grants or whatever loan funds from the governor, how much can you stand up and point to the gross negligence of African-American leadership, and leadership in this government," said District 28 Republican Assembly candidate Herb Glenn, referring to Evans.
Still, the candidates were careful not to go out after the black religious leaders too forcefully.
Glenn, who sat next to a photo of himself holding an umbrella over Jackson while he spoke at a July school choice rally in front of the State House, tempered his language on the Jackson.
Jackson sits on the board of E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) – a group that supports school vouchers, and has been an outspoken proponent of the idea. Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie even engaged in a public flirtation with Jackson for his support.
Glenn said he does not fault Jackson for seeking donations for his organization, but argued that taking it from Corzine could make him less likely to oppose the governor on issues like school vouchers for fear of losing future funds.
"I'm not saying that the Governor bought him off for his support. I'm saying that his governor is using his money to influence support to individuals that have a lot of notoriety in our community," said Glenn.
Childress was a bit more direct in his criticism of the ministers, arguing that those who received financial support from Corzine were "compromising their principles" and that Corzine is "ignoring the vanguard of the African-American community due to the fact that he can give monetary awards for their allegiance, so he doesn't have to address the issue that is the most blatant in urban communities."
The three candidates mostly went after the influence of Gov. Corzine's money in the inner-cities. They were realistic about their chances in districts where Democrats are hugely outnumbered by Republicans.
"Can we pull it off? The more people who know about [Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange] and what he's done there are definitely voting for us," said Funt, who is running with Mark Meyerowitz, who also ran two years ago. "The question is how much we can actually get out. I guess we'll find out next week."
Childress, for his part, is up against Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange), who is likely to become the next speaker. Although Childress said that he thinks she will be a "capable speaker," he argued that she did not have the political independence to work towards school vouchers, which he thinks is one of the most important issues facing the state's inner city communities.
"She has a county job and she's been in the party for many years. I'm sure she will be a capable speaker. What I am saying is that the plight of our children in the urban communities will be on the back burner as opposed to the front burner," he said.