Education in the Media
Christie Calls for NJEA Official's Resignation After Controversial Response to School Voucher QuestionFebruary 8, 2012
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie and the executive director of the state’s largest teachers union today called on each other to resign, in an escalation of a nasty feud between the Republican governor and the New Jersey Education Association.
The volley began when Christie lashed out at the union official, Vincent Giordano, for a comment he made on the NJTV program "New Jersey Capital Report" on Sunday about school vouchers, which would provide students public money to attend private schools.
Commenting about how the poor can’t always attend private and charter schools, Giordano said, "Life’s not always fair and I’m sorry about that."
Earlier in the conversation, he had said poor parents should have access to the same options as those who can afford to send their children to high-performing schools: "We don’t say you can’t take your kid out of the public school. We would argue not and we would say, ‘Let’s work more closely and more harmoniously.’?"
But Christie called Giordano’s comment outrageous and said if Giordano didn’t resign, Barbara Keshishian, president of the education association, should fire him.
"I cannot express how disgusted I am by that statement by the head of the largest teachers union in our state," he said at a press conference in Westfield, "but I also have to tell you I’m not the least bit surprised because I think it so succinctly captures what their real position is."
Then the governor took a personal swipe: "As Vince drives out of the palace on State Street in his big luxury car and his $500,000 salary. I’m sure life’s really fair for him, and if Vince’s kids were in a failing school district he could afford to send them to any school in New Jersey that could help them succeed."
And not long afterward, the former Republican governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, tweeted his support for Christie. Last week, Bush gave a talk in Morris County echoing Christie’s education reforms.
Joining the verbal free-for-all, the Communication Workers of America, the largest state workers union, then struck back at Christie for criticizing Giordano so harshly.
"Where was Governor Christie’s anger when his friend Mitt Romney said he does not care about poor people?" Bob Master said of a comment made last week by the Republican presidential candidate whom Christie has endorsed. "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."
Hours later, Giordano fired back and called for Christie to resign.
"If he thinks he’s going to bully me like he bullies everyone else," he said, "he doesn’t understand who am, or how deeply I care about the work I do."
And a spokesman for the education association, Steve Wollmer, dismissed the governor’s outrage as an "obvious political attack."
"The governor is doing everything he can do demonize us in the discussion over vouchers," he said. "The governor and his allies are seizing on one phrase, which Mr. Giordano has said is open to misinterpretation."
The governor and the education association came together briefly last month in their support for the Urban Hope Act, which gives private nonprofit groups the authority to build a total of 12 schools in Newark, Camden and Trenton.
Christie has also been urging lawmakers to take up a bill that would provide students with vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.