By Ben Velderman
NEWARK, N.J. – Cory Booker, the outspoken education reform mayor of Newark, appears to be a strong bet to become New Jersey’s next U.S. senator – and the state’s teacher unions are surprisingly at peace with that.
Booker is one of four Democrats running in the Aug. 13 primary to succeed the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this month.
As mayor of New Jersey’s largest city, Booker has supported all kinds of K-12 policies that teacher union leaders find heretical, including tenure reform, vouchers, charter schools, linking teacher evaluations to students’ test scores and merit pay, reports the Associated Press.
The other three Democrats running to replace Lautenberg have better relations with the state’s two teachers unions than Booker does. Of course, that’s not such a big feat, considering that Booker has publicly referred to the unions as “bullies and thugs.”
Regardless of Booker’s anti-union views, the New Jersey Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have decided to remain on the sidelines without endorsing any of the four Democrats, the AP reports.
That’s a move that directly benefits Booker, reports NJ.com.
By helping Booker win the Democratic primary – through inaction – the unions are essentially ensuring that he will move on to the Senate. As the AP notes, “New Jersey voters haven’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in more than 40 years.”
Some are wondering why the teacher unions are helping Booker in this way.
Actually, it’s not too difficult to understand.
If voters send Booker to Washington D.C. it will allow the unions to start fresh with a new mayor of Newark – one who is on friendlier terms with Big Labor. That would be a major coup for the unions, as Newark’s public schools are under mayoral control.
Booker’s ascent to the U.S. Senate would also limit his influence over New Jersey’s public education system. Booker is an eloquent spokesman for the need to reform public education, but as a senator, his voice will be largely muted. Apart from an occasional K-12 spending bill, D.C. lawmakers have little say over how the nation’s public schools operate.
The unions’ position of neutrality also keeps the lines of communication open to the potential U.S. senator, should they need Booker’s help at some later date.
The unions’ decision makes all the sense in the world.
Booker, on the other hand, might find life in the Senate a bit disappointing. In an interview with the AP, he explained how important education reform is to him.
“Every single day the urgency of fixing this problem stared me in the face,” Booker said. “There is true understanding in Newark that the system has failed the genius of our children.”
If Booker wins the election, he’ll have to watch Newark’s fight for education reform from D.C., where he’ll be largely powerless to help.
And the NJEA is doing a masterful job of arranging that situation.