The battle for the votes of Jersey City’s teachers apparently continues, with both of the two best-known mayoral candidates pulling out all stops to secure the votes of the 4,000 members of the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA).
“This is probably the most important election, ever, for us,” JCEA President Ron Greco told a room of educators at a meeting on April 10. “This is life or death for us.”
The meeting, which was secretly videotaped by an attendee and leaked to the Reporter late last week, comes across like a revival, and was held to get out the vote for Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy and his allies running for the City Council on May 14.
Throughout the 34-minute video, Healy’s main rival, City Councilman Steven Fulop, is portrayed as a union-buster allegedly prepared to help carry out the education agenda of Republican Gov. Christopher Christie and Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.
Christie, facing reelection in November, told a town hall meeting in Branchburg on Thursday, “I don’t think teachers are the problem. I think unions are the problem.” In mid-March, the New Jersey Education Association endorsed Christie’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
The leaked video was shot by a Fulop supporter who believes the meeting was held to put pressure on JCEA members to work for the Healy campaign. The meeting was attended by Healy and City Council President Peter Brennan, who is running on the Healy slate for one of three at-large council seats.
“The only way they can win is by pushing fear, which is shameful because it triggers unnecessary anxiety in people.” – Councilman Steven Fulop
Recalling protests and strikes that teachers, paraprofessionals, and others held against the Jersey City school board in 1970-1971 and again in 1998, Greco told the assembled JCEA members, “God willing, we’re not going to have to do that [again. But the current] Board of Education is a puppet board that was put there by and is influenced by the councilman, Steve Fulop. We know through e-mails that have come out that he has swayed the votes of those board members, instructed them on who to bring here as the superintendent.”
Eight of the school board’s nine members were elected with the endorsement and help of Fulop and his political operation.
Greco goes on to say that Fulop and the school board trustees are working with Education Commissioner Cerf and Gov. Christie to “harm” teachers and the teachers’ union. He further alleges there are state plans to close several schools in the district, including Snyder High School and PS 41.
Facts, or fear-mongering?
“The one person who has a risk of losing his job in this election is Mayor Healy,” Fulop said last week. “I have zero plans to privatize anything. The backbone of the city are the hard working people, whom I value.”
For the past year, Fulop and his allies on the Board of Education have been fighting allegations that they support efforts to privatize some aspects of the public school system. Two weeks ago Fulop obtained the personal e-mail addresses of JCEA members and sent an e-mailed letter to teachers portraying himself as an ally of teachers and an advocate of public education.
And at the April 10 City Council meeting, Fulop co-sponsored a resolution opposing any privatization of teachers’ aides and other paraprofessionals in the Jersey City School District.
Despite these efforts, the JCEA membership remains skeptical of him. Last week he said union leaders and the Healy campaign are trying to exploit this skepticism and fan the flames of fear among the city’s educators.
After stating that he “trusts” and “believes in” Healy, Greco said, the mayor’s “daughter is a teacher, his nephew [is as well]. Mayor Healy is from Jersey City. He raised his family here. He’s of the city. He’s from the city. He knows the people. He is not going to privatize us. He’s not about earning a buck. This is not a stepping stone to a Congressional seat. This is not a stepping stone to Trenton. We can’t have Bill Gates, Wal-Mart, [and] Steve Fulop running the school system amok and privatizing the buildings.”
Pointing to the Englewood school district, where some district duties were outsourced to private entities, Greco told the membership: “The clerks and [paraprofessionals] in Englewood lost their jobs. They had to reapply to a private company. Now they make 51 percent less. There are no health benefits. There’s no 401 (k). There is no pension. There is nothing.”
He then implored the members to attend a fundraiser this Wednesday at Puccini’s for former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Epps. Epps is running on Healy’s slate for the Ward A City Council seat.
Healy also addressed the JCEA membership at the April 10 meeting.
“We all know what this election is about on May 14,” Healy said. “There’s a movement out there to privatize and [Greco] has told you where it’s coming from.”
But Fulop stated in response, “The privatization discussion is an out and out lie. The only way they can win is by pushing fear, which is shameful because it triggers unnecessary anxiety in people.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.