NEWARK – After touring a preschool in Newark to underscore the importance of early childhood education on Friday, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) answered questions about a range of issues that affect both New Jersey’s largest city and the state as a whole.
One critical issue that continues to embroil Newark civic life is Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson’s leadership of New Jersey’s largest school district
Christie’s decision to appoint Anderson to head Newark’s public schools in 2011 has created what many see as an educational impasse, especially after Ms. Anderson launched her school reorganization scheme, known as the “One Newark” plan, in September. Meant to improve the city’s public education system by increasing student options, the plan has left many parents angry, confused and frustrated. A widespread community backlash included vociferous student, parental and teacher protests. Prominent local politicians also spoke out, including state Senate education committee chair Teresa Ruiz, who stated that “the trust is gone” in Ms. Anderson’s leadership of the city’s schools. Yet Christie doubled down on his support for Ms. Anderson and her plan, renewing her contract for three more years in June.
When asked about the ongoing “One Newark” controversy by PolitickerNJ, Sweeney, a potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, deferred to the elected officials on the ground in Newark.
“I would leave that to my colleagues who actually are living with [Anderson] here in Newark,” Sweeney said after he toured the North Ward Center Child Development Center. “Obviously, it’s very controversial, and there are a lot of elected officials that are very unsatisfied. But again, since I don’t live here, I would focus more on Senator Ruiz and Senator Ron Rice (D-28) that represent Essex County, and specifically Newark.”
Ruiz, who accompanied Sweeney on the tour, continued to express her disapprobation for Anderson’s leadership.
“On a daily basis, I continue to argue my case that I don’t believe that this is the person who should be leading the district,” Ruiz said. “I’m not the one who ultimately makes that decision, but I can only continue to argue my case. My trust in her leadership has plummeted to zero. I really look forward to the day when we have someone new taking our kids into a better model of public school learning.”
The most recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll exhibits a numerical model that is not ideal for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The Republican governor’s support has fallen to just 37 percent of registered New Jersey voters, down seven points in just two months, the poll reports.
According to the poll, a key component of New Jerseyans’ growing dissension with Christie is attributed to his trips around the nation and world in order to gauge support for a potential run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
PolitickerNJ asked Sweeney if Christie should focus solely on New Jersey in the weeks ahead and perhaps even discontinue any plans he might have to run for president.
“I’m sure he’ll tell you he is focusing on New Jersey, but obviously the people don’t feel that he is. That’s why you see the poll numbers going down,” said Sweeney. “You get elected to the Senate, to the Assembly, or to be Governor of New Jersey, the focus is supposed to be New Jersey. I’m sure he’ll dispute that his focus isn’t here. But New Jersey should be the priority for everyone that works in Trenton.”
Sweeney’s appearance in Newark on Friday was the third significant sighting of the state Senate President in North Jersey this week. Sweeney held a meeting with state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) in Teaneck on Wednesday. He was also present at the annual labor breakfast hosted by Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones on Friday morning.
Sweeney, South Jersey’s most prominent elected official, has a very serious problem in his own backyard: the precipitous decline of Atlantic City’s fortunes.
Asked if he was concerned that too many appearances in North Jersey in light of Atlantic City’s problems could make him guilty of the same absentee offense many attribute to Christie, Sweeney stood his ground.
“I actually devised a bill package that will fix Atlantic City that Republicans and Democrats all are saying is needed to be approved, and we’re ready to pass it. The governor has to come out and say he’s going to sign it,” Sweeney said. “I’m not playing games with the people of Atlantic City. We didn’t bring in bankruptcy experts that basically dropped their credit-worthiness into the toilet. Some of the decisions the administration has made on Atlantic City are bad, very bad. I am ready and able to pass my legislation. All the governor has to say is that he’s going to sign it.”