For Democrats who say there’s not much of a difference between Gordon Johnson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle – that their voting records are nearly identical – a conservative Republican who ran against both of them in 2013, thinks Johnson is marginally the better choice.
“I think it’s neither, but if I had to choose one, with all his flaws, it’s Johnson,” Dierdre Glenn Paul told the New Jersey Globe in a telephone interview. “He’s always out in the community. You never see her at anything.”
The Englewood educator is running again this year as one of four candidates seeking the Republican Assembly nomination in the 37th district.
Paul thinks that Vainieri Huttle has focused on progressive issues rather than local ones.
“She has brought a pink Planned Parenthood bus to Englewood; but refused to help her constituents improve their failing school system and fire that system’s incompetent superintendent,” Paul wrote in a Facebook post when Vainieri Huttle entered the race in January. “In fact, I can’t recall a single instance of Valerie’s support for an effort to improve life for ‘living’ children of color.”
Paul called Vainieri Huttle “an ideologue and has very little interest in effectively representing constituents who can do nothing for her, except offer their gratitude.”
“While I wish we had a Republican Senate candidate who could win this district, I am a pragmatist first, last and always,” Paul wrote. “I grudgingly admit that Gordon is better suited as Loretta’s replacement. He has earned it.”
A former Democrat, Paul said she wasn’t surprised that Johnson locked up enough votes to secure the Bergen County Democratic organization line.
“Gordon will show up anywhere in the district to support Democrats,” she said. “His representation here is poor” but that “Valerie is nonexistent.”
“Valerie shows up to few community events and only in the event that there will be a direct benefit to her if she does,” Paul said. “She is a dilettante and truly out of touch with her constituents, especially those of African descent.”
But Paul’s criticism could wind up helping Vainieri Huttle in her off the line challenge to Johnson as the true progressive candidate.
She cited Huttle’s support of LGBTQ curriculum that doesn’t let parents opt out on behalf of their children. Paul believes that anti-bullying legislation Vainieri Huttle wrote discriminates “against boys and black boys in particular.”
Among Paul’s grievances with Vainieri Huttle involves an undisclosed complaint she had with Johnson more than a decade ago, when she was a Democrat and president of her local union who had unsuccessfully sought an Englewood City Council seat.
“I told Valerie about it because I was telling everybody about it,” Paul told the NJ Globe. “She didn’t do anything.”
That’s something Vainieri Huttle denied.
“I don’t know what this complaint is about,” she said. “I’m not aware of it.”
The grievance – and changing views on issues – eventually led Paul to resign her post with the American Federation of Teachers and join the Republican Party,
“I while I wish we had a Republican Senate candidate who could win this district, I am a pragmatist first, last and always,” she said on Facebook. “Thus, I grudgingly admit that Gordon is better suited as Loretta’s replacement. He has earned it.”
Still, Paul says, “I am no fan of Gordon Johnson.”
Paul had high praise for Weinberg, the Senate Majority Leader whose retirement has sparked the Democratic Senate primary.
“Ideologically, there’s not too many things I agree with her on,” Paul said. “But in terms of principle and integrity, I respect her greatly. They are not even eligible to tie her shoes.”
This story was updated at 7:38 PM on March 12 with comment from Vainieri Huttle.