Letters indicating a clean break from the upper echelons of establishment Republican Party power consolidated by Gov. Chris Christie issued today from the office of state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23).
“I’m a little surprised that a team that prided itself on corruption busting is now looking the other way as corruption is happening,” Doherty told PolitickerNJ.com on the same day he fired off a letter to state Attorney General Paula Dow.
“If this is not her job, I don’t know what she is doing.”
Doherty said he similarly brought up the issue of what he sees as corruption inherent in the schools funding furmula to state Department of Education Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf, the governor’s Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa, and state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.
“I even discussed the issue with the governor directly,” said Doherty, irate after reading a story over the weekend in the Star-Ledger that pertained specifically to the Elizabeth Board of Education.
According to veteran reporter Ted Sherman of the Star-Ledger, the president of the Elizabeth Board of Education, a school principal, and a supervisor of custodians, all have children enrolled in the free or reduced price lunch program, even though their incomes appear to significantly exceed the level needed to qualify for the program.
For the record, the state in 2008, before Christie was governor, issued a subpoeana for “dozens of financial records,” of the Elizabeth Board of Education, according the the Star-Ledger.
Today, Doherty wrote a letter to Cerf in addition to the one he sent Dow.
A potential anti-GOP establishment candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012 who has opposed Christie before but never this publicly, Doherty wants Dow to investigate allegations of corruption and fraud in the National School Lunch Program in the Elizabeth school district.
Christie said at a recent press conference that he doesn’t comment on current law enforcement cases, and sources close to the governor fumed that Doherty has no business revving up this kind of rhetoric without behind-the-scenes knowledge of law enforcement activities.
That didn’t deter the mountain man senator from Warren County.
“If the Star-Ledger story is true, it appears that highly paid school officials in Elizabeth are gaming the system for their own personal enrichment,” Doherty wrote. “Perhaps of greater importance, under New Jersey’s system for funding schools, enrolling a student in the free and reduced price lunch program triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for the student, which results in an additional $6,000-7,000 of state school aid for each student enrolled in the program. This additional school aid, which can exceed hundreds of millions of dollars per year, is collected from taxpayers throughout the state.”
Doherty also noted a June 2011 report, issued by the State Auditor, Stephen Eells, which found that 37% of the students signed up for the free and reduced price lunch program were actually ineligible.
“It appears that the type of fraud uncovered in Elizabeth may be rampant. I urge the Attorney General to immediately investigate this matter in Elizabeth and across the state,” added Doherty.
The anti-establishment Republican senator wasn’t the only legislator animated by the Star-Ledger story. Ironically, his old cross-the-aisle foe, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20), with whom he once got into a Senate floor fistfight, was similarly outraged over the story.
In a letter to federal and state officials, Lesniak and his running mates, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, today also called for an investigation into the alleged abuses of the national school lunch program operating within the Elizabeth School District.
“We fully support the school lunch program for children from low income families,” write the Democrats. “To restore confidence in its integrity, we ask for a swift and thorough investigation of its implementation by the Elizabeth School District and that legal action be taken against the President of the Board of Education and the principal and teacher cited in the article should the facts prove they fraudulently abused the program. Also, we ask that the district administration be investigated for complicity in the fraud and abuse.”
In June, Lesniak and company withstood a challenge by candidates backed by the Elizabeth Board of Education, an organization that supported Christie over Jon Corzine in the 2009 gubernatorial contest.