Bayonne Board of Education (BBOED) Trustee and Hoboken High School teacher, Christopher Munoz, officially announced his candidacy for the 31st District NJ General Assembly seat, a two-year term, currently occupied by Nicholas Chiaravalloti. The district represents Bayonne and parts of Jersey City.
This year’s elections are profoundly important. The entire NJ State Assembly, governor, and various municipal and mayoral elections will be up for grabs on November 7, 2017. The announcement from the Munoz campaign comes amid potential Assembly candidates lining up for the June 6 primary election.
Munoz brings with him the backing of the Jersey City Teachers Association (JCEA). His running mate is Kristen Zadroga Hart, coordinator for athletics in the Jersey City School district and former campaign manager and spokesperson for Board of Education candidates supported by the JCEA. The JCEA has a good track record in winning elections.
Though he’s running as a Democrat, Munoz will be going up against a political machine – the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), which backs both incumbents seeking re-election against Munoz – Nicholas Chiaravalloti and fellow Assemblywoman Angela McKnight.
“My experiences at the board made me realize that I could best serve Bayonne by running for the State Assembly.” – Christopher Munoz
Members of the HCDO include Assembly Speaker representing Secaucus, Vincent Prieto, all Hudson County mayors, including State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, and other powerful county Democrats. When combined, they have lucrative funding. School funding, pensions, and healthcare are major issues this election cycle. This, combined with an up-swell in political activism since last year, could make NJ state elections as unpredictable as the federal elections this past November. Borrowing a phrase from the lottery world, Munoz said, “You can’t win if you don’t run in the first place.”
You have to be in it to win it
Munoz is part of a group of Bayonne trailblazers – the first elected BOED trustees in Bayonne after 35 years of an appointed board ended with a referendum. After studying at NJCU, Munoz became a teacher in Hoboken, handling AP courses in history and government, where he currently works while managing a crisis in Bayonne on the side.
As a BBOED trustee, Munoz has been an outspoken proponent of increased teacher pay in Bayonne, a perpetually underfunded district, which is currently experiencing a major structural deficit. The Bayonne School district’s financial woes, combined with the statewide fight over the issue of state funding, which currently tends to hurt urban areas, pushed the issue of school funding to the fore of Hudson County issues.
The BBOED is Munoz’s first experience holding public office, and is what inspired him to reach for the next level. “My experiences at the board made me realize that I could best serve Bayonne by running for the State Assembly,” he said. “I can see how underfunding is choking the district, and districts like ours. It’s not fair to communities that property taxes have to go higher just to make ends meet.”
Munoz sees any school district, urban ones especially, as being at risk of meeting the same fate as Bayonne’s. The board calculated that over the last five years, if the state of NJ fully funded the formula agreed on in 2010, then the district would have an additional $51 million, compared to the $3 to 6 million structural deficit it currently has.
“Do you know what $51 million would have done?” Munoz said. “We wouldn’t have a structural deficit, teachers wouldn’t be begging for a teachers’ contract for four years. They would be getting paid what they’re worth if we had this funding. This is really a serious issue all over the state.”
In his campaign’s press release, Munoz puts “Fighting for more state funding for our schools to decrease the local property tax burden” first on his list of issues.
Munoz supports improving infrastructure and paying for it using the transportation fund. He also supports a constitutional amendment to “fix the public employee pension system.”
The issue of growing public pensions has been more prevalent these days in NJ as public workers in all but two of NJ’s 54 counties are owed more than $1.9 million in pension payments for unused time. The Bayonne School District’s is at $5.8 million.
Munoz sits comfortably on the Democratic side of the debate, but his ties to JCEA, as well as to the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA, may put him at odds with some Democrats who would rather slim pensions down in the form of state cap payouts. A bipartisan effort to curb pension payouts failed in 2010 when Gov. Christopher Christie vetoed the measure. Proponents of curbing payouts argue that their cost can hurt local budgets, raise property taxes, and result in public employee layoffs. Unions, including the NJEA, have long opposed putting caps on state payouts. Munoz’s JCEA is under the NJEA umbrella.
“Employees are making their pension contributions,” Munoz said. “But the state isn’t.”
Promoting small businesses and new development, creating and improving recreational facilities, and improving public safety are also key issues for Munoz.
His opponent, Nicholas Chiaravalloti is bound to tout development and school funding in his platform. He sponsored a bill to amend Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) legislation to require that five percent of payments go to the local school district. The legislation made a splash in parts of Jersey City, which has underfunding issues similar to those in Bayonne. As in Bayonne, developers there are seen as culpable.
“There is someone who has the integrity and the desire to go the distance against the Democratic incumbents and challenge the HCDO,” Munoz said in his press release. “I have invested in my life and intend to use it to help others. I’m not an old outdated politician who is seeking to further my own self-interest. We need someone with the capability to stand up and fight for our rights, and our future.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.