We Love The New Jersey Teachers Union-- And Why Corrupt Beltway Democrats Should Try To Understand Them... Pronto!

Trump Soho, Cyrus Vance & Marc Kasowitz

If you're as old as I am, when you hear "Cyrus Vance," you think of an elite Democrat originally from West Virginia who served as JFK's Secretary of the Army, LBJ's Deputy Secretary of Defense and then Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State. He died 15 years ago but today "Cyrus Vance" refers to Cyrus Vance, Jr., his less distinguished son, a corrupt elite sleaze bag District Attorney from Manhattan (Buckley, Groton, Yale, Georgetown), chosen by outgoing D.A. Robert Morgenthau, though the whole NYC liberal/neo-liberal establishment endorsed him, as did The Times, the Daily News and The Post. He won that election (2009) with 91% of the vote. Now that he's been exposed for taking a series of heavy bribes to drop cases against various Trumps, and as a defender of Harvey Weinstein, he probably won't get quite as big a margin. He took $25,000 from one Trump lieutenant, gave it back to make the dropped case look kosher, only to take $50,000 from the same Trumpist, shady attorney Marc Kasowitz, after the heat died down. Now David Sirota is reporting another $10,000 payoff.

The principal of a law firm involved in fending off a criminal investigation into a Trump Organization project gave $10,000 to Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance amid the probe, according to campaign finance records reviewed by International Business Times. The money from Elkan Abramowitz, which had not previously been reported, was in addition to a separate campaign donation to Vance from Trump attorney Mark Kasowitz. After the money flowed to Vance, the Democratic DA overruled his prosecutors and declined to file charges against Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and others involved in the controversial Trump SoHo project.

The disclosures are the fourth in a week showing that Vance received campaign donations from law firms whose clients had potential cases before his office. IBT previously reported that Vance declined to prosecute Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and received $182,000 from partners at the law firm of Weinstein’s long-time attorney. IBT also reported that Vance received more than $42,000 from lawyers at a criminal defense firm whose clients received plea deals from Vance’s office that let them avoid prison, including another high profile sexual assault case.

Polling consistently shows voters absolutely hate the Republican Party. But, understandably, they're not crazy about the Democratic Party either. How could they be? The Democrats have one thing going for the, which they summed up institutionally all on their own with this telling meme:

They are the ultimate lesser of two evils party-- though usually lesser enough for Democratic voters to hold their noses and vote for them against the more existentially dangerous Republicans. Usually. The latest PPP survey shows only 9% of voters approve of the job Congress is doing, only 14% approve of the job Mitch McConnell is doing in the Senate and only 25% approve of the job Ryan is doing in the House. When asked "if there was an election for Congress today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate from your district," 48% say the Democrat and just 37% say the Republican. Although the GOP is somewhat insulated from that kind of margin by gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, an 11 point margin would still sweep them out of power. And that margin has been growing, not shrinking. So how could the Democrats lose? By sucking as bad as they do and being disgusting enough so that people who care about good governance just refuse to get out for the lesser evil.

I'm not predicting that; Trump is just too horrific for the electorate at this point-- and worse is yet to come from that psychopath. But the Democratic Party should put some real effort into aspiring to be more than just the lesser evil. Rachel Cohen pointed to an object lesson from New Jersey, a state that knows the Lord of Bedminster well but where he was defeated last year 2,148,278 (55.45%) to 1,601,933 (41.35%). He won 9 of the state's 21 counties, primarily the ones with small populations, like Salem, Hunterdon, Cape May, Sussex and Warren. But as Cohen pointed out, the big New Jersey teachers union just backed a pro-Trump imbecile because they wanted to take a stand against grotesque and dysfunctional corruption in the Democratic Party. It was the right move too; state Senate president Steve Sweeney is the face of what's wrong with politics in New Jersey-- and one of the faces of what's wrong with the Democratic Party nationally.

The New Jersey Education Association, which is New Jersey’s top political spender, is backing Republican Fran Grenier against Steve Sweeney, the Democratic state Senate president and New Jersey’s second most-powerful elected official. The controversial endorsement has angered liberal allies, but the union remains unapologetic in its message: Democrats cannot take teachers for granted.

It’s a contentious move, but one that is unlikely to change the ultimate outcome of the election. Democrats are expected to control all three branches of government after November, a major turning point for the Garden State. After seven years under Republican Gov. Chris Christie-- a man boasting an impressively low 15 percent approval rating-- a majority of voters are expected to cast their ballot for Phil Murphy, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate running against the GOP’s Kim Guadagno. And with a state legislature that’s also expected to remain blue, progressives have been eagerly anticipating their chance to start reversing the policies of Christie’s tenure.

That explains why the NJEA has decided to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in what’s shaping up to be the most expensive legislative race in state history to try to unseat Sweeney: The union feels the top Democrat has betrayed it one too many times.

In late September, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could strike a mortal blow to the NJEA and other public sector unions across the country. Through the case, which mirrors a similar suit that reached the high court in 2016 but ended in a 4-4 deadlock following Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death, union opponents hope to outlaw “agency fees”-- mandatory dues all union members must pay for collective bargaining. The NJEA’s controversial endorsement has jeopardized Democratic support at such a precarious moment for unions, especially for someone who appears so at odds with labor’s goals, and has left many liberals squirming. The move has also baffled others in the labor movement-- Sweeney is backed by the AFT (the state’s smaller teachers union), the AFL-CIO, the UCFW, UNITE Here, SEIU, AFSCME, among others.

At the same time, many progressives have also long wanted unions to take a more aggressive stance against Democrats who happily court labor’s campaign contributions, yet fail to push for a strong pro-worker agenda once in office. The NJEA’s leadership, which has defended its endorsement by saying it is “not an arm of the Democratic Party”-- echoes some of the rhetoric of more left-leaning activists who urge unions to actively challenge more corporate, Wall Street-aligned Democrats. Yet it’s one thing to primary an establishment candidate from the left, and another to campaign hard for a Republican during the general.

Sweeney, who first joined the state Senate in 2002, became majority leader in 2007 and Senate president in 2010. His relationship with the NJEA began to sour in 2011 when he pushed forward a deal with Christie that limited pension and health benefits for public sector workers. The union says Sweeney has continued to cozy up with Christie and has failed to forcefully criticize the governor’s underfunding of public education. The relationship deteriorated even further last year when Sweeney walked back on a promise to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to fully fund pensions, and then accused the NJEA of bribery and extortion.

This past March, the NJEA declared it would try to unseat Sweeney, but there were no Democrats willing to primary him. The union could have chosen to give no endorsement and still run negative ads against Sweeney, but the NJEA instead decided to endorse his Republican challenger along with running attack ads.

...Political analysts suspect the NJEA is pursuing this strategy largely to send a message to other Democratic legislators that if you cross unions one too many times, they’ll come after you, too.

“Sweeney is extremely well-connected, has the resources to combat a barrage of negative attacks, but not every legislator can say that,” said Dworkin. “The fact that the NJEA is not likely to knock off the legislative leader doesn’t mean their strategy isn’t working on some level.”

Others wonder if the NJEA’s hardball approach will come back to bite it, especially if Sweeney is elected and holds a grudge. Yet Dworkin notes that the powerful teachers union tried to oust the former Democratic Senate president in 1991, so this sort of politicking has some precedent in the NJEA’s playbook. With 200,000 members across every district in New Jersey, the union has some latitude. Plus, though the NJEA may take some heat if Democrats lose their races elsewhere in New Jersey, if Murphy (who the NJEA endorsed) is elected, then a veto-proof majority is less important.

Donna Chiera, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey, declined to comment on the NJEA’s endorsement, but said she does worry it has diverted too much attention away from the fact that New Jersey has the opportunity to elect a Democratic governor with a Democratic legislature. “My concern is that members are hearing mixed messages, and sometimes when people get mixed messages they don’t vote at all,” she told The Intercept.

Murphy has so far refused to criticize the NJEA for endorsing Grenier. In Politico he was quoted as saying he’s “incredibly honored” to be backed by the teachers union, and yet “at the same time, I’m also on the line with and I’m campaigning with Steve Sweeney.” One Star-Ledger columnist argued that Murphy’s silence will weaken him, as other legislators “will see that he refused to throw a fellow Democrat a life-preserver in his hour of need.”

Alex Law ran for Congress last year as a reformer and progressive against the younger brother of Boss Norcross. The full weight of the Democratic Party's South Jersey Machine was brought down on his head. He's still fighting for New Jersey, though. Today he told us "As someone raised in a Democratic household that actively supports Democratic policies and ran for public office as a Democrat, I would have thought that in any match up of a Democrat versus a Republican that the choice would be obvious. However, Senate President Sweeney and the rest of the political machine he is intimately associated with are not Democrats in my mind. At every turn, they have put their own interest before the people they serve and have consistently worked against the interests of unions, especially the NJEA. Steve Sweeney is a quintessential example of the kind of people that are plaguing our party, so I wouldn't shed a tear if his past misdeeds cost him his office and sent him into the political underworld of lobbyists where he'd be amongst those with similar miniscule levels of integrity."

Ugly face of NJ corruption: Christie, So. Jersey boss George Norcross & Sweeney
Down With Tyranny

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