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New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

NJEA backs Murphy, Sweeney for re-election

State’s largest public employee union sides with Democrats in bid to pick up two open GOP Senate seats

By David Wildstein, July 14 2021 12:24 pm

The New Jersey Education Association has endorsed Gov. Phil Murphy for re-election, and is backing Senate President Steve Sweeney for re-election to his seat four years after the union spent over $5 million in a bid to take him out in the general election.

The NJEA PAC, representing the state’s largest public employee union, is supporting Democratic State Senate candidates in two districts with retiring Republican incumbents.

Endorsements went to Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) for re-election in the Atlantic County-based 2nd district, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) in Central Jersey’s 16th district.  The two incumbents, Christopher Brown (R-Ventnor) and Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg), are not seeking re-election.

The union is backing Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick for Mazzeo’s open Assembly seat, and former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer for the seat Zwicker is giving up.

“Our members take this process very seriously and only endorse those candidates who have a demonstrated commitment to public education and a record of support. The candidates who earned these endorsements know that it comes with our pledge that we will work hard to get them elected and our expectation that we will work together for the benefit of New Jersey’s students and our public schools,” said Marie Blistan, the NJEA president.  “We back up our endorsements with action because we know the importance of having leaders in place who share our values and our belief in our public schools.”

No endorsements came in the 8th district Senate race, where Republican-turned-Democrat State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) faces a challenge from Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Westampton).  The NJEA is also not playing in the Assembly race, where Democrats are looking to flip two Assembly seats.  Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) is not seeking re-election.

The union said  additional endorsements may be made later in the summer, following legislative added screenings in some districts.

The NJEA is backing Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick for an open State Senate seat in the 21st district, where Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. is not seeking re-election.   But they endorsed Democrat Anjali Mehrotra for Bramnick’s Assembly seat, passing over Democrat Elizabeth Graner, an NJEA member.

Two potential candidates to succeed Bramnick as minority leader next year – Ned Thomson (R-Wall) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) – were also endorsed by the NJEA.

Nine other Republicans snared NJEA endorsements: State Sens. Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) and Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), Assembly members Sean Kean (R-Wall), Ronald Dancer (R-Plumsted), Rob Clifton (R-Matawan), Aura Dunn (R-Mendham), Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) and Kevin Rooney (R-Wyckoff).

The endorsement of Murphy was expected.  The NJEA had been early backers of Murphy in his bid for governor four years ago and endorsed him for the 2021 Democratic nomination last year.

Republican gubernatorial Jack Ciattarelli had agreed to take part in a candidate screening process with NJEA leaders on the condition that the interview be live-streamed to its membership.  Union leaders declined.

“Candidates don’t get to dictate the terms,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said at the time.

NJEA vice president and incoming president Sean Spiller said that his membership supported Murphy four years ago “on the basis of his promises and his progressive vision for public education.”

“This year, he earned our endorsement on the basis of his outstanding record as governor. He’s kept and even exceeded his promises to New Jersey families and public school employees while guiding New Jersey through some of the most challenging times in our state’s history,” Spiller said.  “We are excited to work until November to get him reelected so we can continue New Jersey’s progress together.”

The powerful teachers’ union is backing just two challengers against incumbents: Vincent Solomeno for Senate and Allison Friedman and Erin Howard for Assembly in the Monmouth-based 13th district, and Christine Clarke for Senate and Pamela Fadden for Assembly in the 26th.

So far, NJEA did not endorse Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, or any of the other Democratic incumbents in the 17th, 18th and 19th districts.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), who is unopposed for re-election, has not endorsed by the New Jersey Education Association.  Neither were the two Budget committee chairs, State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Newark).  Marin is also unopposed.

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