The political action committee of the New Jersey Education Association officially endorsed Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-2) and Atlantic County Freeholder Colin Bell on Tuesday for the upcoming 2015 assembly race. The NJEA had endorsed Mazzeo’s opponent Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) in 2013, but NJEA Director of Government Relations Ginger Gold Schnitzer said that district employees’ imperiled pension fund was their first priority.
A release from Mazzeo’s camp described the endorsement as a “rebuke” to candidate Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), who countered by describing the push for additional pension funding as a “quick fix to fund the pension system by raising taxes $1.1 billion on all of us” to the Press of Atlantic City.
The endorsement comes at a time when the New Jersey schools and teachers’ unions have reached what Schnitzer called a “crisis point.”
“While he’s worked cooperatively with us on many issues, he was not able to support us this time on the statutorily required pension payment,” said Schitzer. “It was right at the forefront of our members’ minds when they were deciding who to support in this election.”
“Our members were less concerned about what party candidates were from than in whether they’re willing to support the pension payment, and to support their economic security and retirement. If there had been Republicans that crossed over and supported the budget bill with the payment, I imagine we probably would have seen them come out with some Republican endorsements.
“I don’t think anybody was surprised,” she added.
The endorsement may be an indication that the Democratic ticket can compete with Republican running mate Will Pauls’s strong record with organized labor in South Jersey. Pauls serves as president of the South Jersey Building Trades and is a member of the Executive Board of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council of Atlantic City.
“Our support from labor is really critical,” said Democratic political consultant Mike Muller. “We’re in a low-turnout election and we have the strong support of labor and teachers, who obviously vote in strong force. It really is a great advantage for us as we head into the fall. The proof is in the endorsement. This is really a rank of where the rank and file, where labor support, lines up.”
“The way they’ve stood up for working people and especially teachers, they are definitely well deserving of the endorsement,” said Muller of Mazzeo and Bell. It really is going to be a real boost to our entire campaign in the second district.”
Consultant to the group Assembly Republican Victory Chris Russell said replied in a statement that “[the] The NJEA union bosses are strictly in the business of handpicking candidates they can control, and putting their own interests ahead of what is best for New Jersey’s schoolchildren, parents and taxpayers. Frankly, the idea that the NJEA can endorse 54 Democrats and zero Republicans and then expect to be viewed as anything but a hyper-partisan special interest group is laughable.”
When asked if the she thought the endorsement might give the Democratic ticket an edge in perceived support from labor interests, Schnitzer said “[if] it does it’s inadvertent.”