New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched salvos on two battle fronts, castigating Democrats for leaking confidential information about his two nominees to the state Supreme Court and demanding that the head of the state’s largest teachers union be fired.
The first-term Republican governor denounced Democratic legislators for commenting on the nominees’ confidential questionnaires. The documents were the basis of a that the Star-Ledger of Newark published on Tuesday about the nominees, Bruce Harris, 61, and Philip Kwon, 44.
The leak, which Christie said came from someone in the Legislature, was “unprecedented and despicable” and may have violated state and federal statutes, Christie said Wednesday during a town hall meeting.
Christie nominated Harris and Kwon on Jan. 23 to fill openings on the high court. If confirmed, Harris would be the first openly gay justice and third black on the court, while Kwon would be the first Asian-American and the first immigrant.
“This has never happened — these folks have engaged in providing personal, confidential information” to the media, Christie said. “They’ve already participated in what is an unprecedented violation of the confidentiality of the confirmation process.”
Two Republican senators, Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. of Westfield and Gerald Cardinale of Cresskill, also condemned the document leak and called for punishment of those responsible.
Kean and Cardinale wrote to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, citing a Senate rule that says information “concerning the character or qualifications of any person nominated by the governor” and which comes before the Judiciary Committee “shall not be made public.”
They urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the nominations quickly.
On the teachers union front, Christie lambasted the organization’s executive director for comments he made about poor schoolchildren.
Christie, who has labeled the teachers union leaders “political thugs,” decried Vincent Giordano’s remarks in an interview on the NJTV network during the weekend, when Giordano said: “Life’s not always fair.”
Giordano, executive director of the 196,000-member New Jersey Education Association, made the comment when the host suggested that poor families can’t afford to put their kids in better private schools.
Christie slammed the comment Wednesday, telling reporters that such rhetoric is “unacceptable.”
“That level of arrogance, that level of pumped-up, rich- man baloney is unacceptable and he should resign,” Christie said. “The teachers of New Jersey deserve much better than that.”
Christie has feuded with the association since taking office in January 2010. In April 2010, he urged parents to reject school budgets in districts where teachers refused to accept wage freezes and accused educators of using children like “drug mules” to carry union messages. In an ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer, he called New Jersey teachers “wonderful public servants” and their union’s leaders “political thugs.”
Barbara Keshishian, president of the teachers association, walked out of a meeting with Christie in April 2010 after she refused to fire a Bergen County union leader who wrote an email joking about the governor’s death.
Meanwhile, teachers association spokesman Steve Wollmer said Thursday that Christie was unfair in his criticism of Giordano.
“Could he [Giordano] have chosen better words? I’ll let someone else decide that,” Wollmer said. “This is a political attack and it’s unfair.”
Christie has proposed offering privately funded vouchers to students from poor families, instituting merit pay for teachers, and making it easier for administrators to fire educators.
Giordano, the union’s executive director since 2007, contends in a statement on the association’s website that vouchers “will take resources from disadvantaged public schools and only exacerbate the challenges faced by students in those communities.” The union’s record of support for urban education and poor children “is unimpeachable,” he said.
The association’s statement says, “While Mr. Giordano acknowledges that his choice of words may be open to misinterpretation, his intent was to make the point that providing vouchers to a select few students is not the way to address the challenges faced by urban school districts.”
Christie has said the union collects more than $100 million a year in dues from its teachers, in part to fund salaries of its leaders and contributions to politicians. Giordano earned $326,000 in 2009, plus about $165,000 in deferred retirement pay and other benefits, Wollmer said.
The Communications Workers of America, which is New Jersey’s largest union for state government employees and has been working without a contract since July 1 amid stalled talks with Christie’s administration, released a statement supporting Giordano.
“The governor seems to be suffering from a case of selective outrage, and — surprise, surprise — it is hard- working public employees that have made him mad again,” said Bob Master, political director for the communications workers.
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