A leading progressive group in New Jersey is not endorsing Senate President Steve Sweeney, the top elected Democrat in state government, for re-election this year and will not be backing some of his closest allies in competitive legislative races.
The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, a coalition of unions, environmental groups and left-leaning organizations, announced endorsements Wednesday for 46 Democratic candidates running for the Assembly and Senate on Nov. 7.
Missing from that list was Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who is warring with the New Jersey Education Association in a Senate race that has already shattered spending records for a legislative election in New Jersey. The NJEA is a member of the Working Families Alliance, along with groups such as the Communications Workers of America, New Jersey Citizen Action, the SEIU state council and the Sierra Club.
The alliance also didn’t back Democratic candidates in the highly-contested 2nd, 11th and 38th districts, where Sweeney allies are trying to hold on to or pick up Senate seats.
Sen. Colin Bell (D-Atlantic) is neck and neck with Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) for the Senate seat in the 2nd district, according to recent polling. In the 11th district, Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) is trying to fend off a well-funded Democratic challenger and Sweeney ally, Vin Gopal. And Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) is facing Republican challenger Kelly Langschultz in the 38th district.
Also missing from the endorsement list, at least initially before the Working Families Alliance made revisions later in the week, was Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), who is in a competitive race in the 14th district against Republican challenger Ileana Schirmer. The group followed up with Observer two days after this article was published to say that it would be endorsing Greenstein after all.
Working Families did endorse Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s re-election to his seat. Prieto (D-Hudson), who has often opposed Sweeney on key issues, is facing the prospect of losing the speakership next year, but is considered a safe bet for re-election to his seat.
In some cases, Working Families and the groups it represents diverged on endorsements. For example, although Working Families did not endorse Sweeney, it also did not endorse his Republican opponent, Fran Grenier. Meanwhile, the NJEA is backing Grenier this year in the 3rd district, and Brown in the 2nd district. And the Sierra Club, a member of the Working Families Alliance, is backing Bell in the 2nd district.
Anne Songcayauon, a Working Families Alliance spokeswoman, said candidates must complete a questionnaire in order to get the group’s endorsement. The organization supports a $15 minimum wage, earned sick leave for all and increased transparency for economic incentive programs, among other issues.
“They have either not responded to our questionnaire or expressed that they will not be able to commit to our priority issues in the new administration,” she wrote in an email when asked why candidates in swing districts were not endorsed.
Sweeney has still racked up endorsements from a host of unions, including the New Jersey branches of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, American Federation of Teachers, Building and Construction Trades Council and the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, among others.
Another advocacy group, Food and Water Action, did not endorse Sweeney or his allies in key districts. In a statement, spokesman Junior Romero criticized Sweeney and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) for supporting a Pinelands gas pipeline and the state takeover of Atlantic City.
“That means they will never merit our endorsement, as we champion clean water and air for all, not South Jersey political machines and their funders,” Romero said.
Update (Oct. 27): Two days after this article was published, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Working Families Alliance said that the group would be endorsing Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) for re-election, after leaving her out of its endorsements in the initial list distributed to the media.