Teachers' union targets top Dems, including Norcross

The all-out war between the Democratic Party in New Jersey and its most traditional base of support and money, the teacher’s union, had been at skirmish-level for a while.

Today it begins for real.

George Norcross III , South Jersey's unofficial Democratic leader, spoke at an alternative high school's graduation.

The NJEA, the major NJ teacher's union and the state's most powerful lobby, released a TV ad this morning in the Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey markets attacking not only the highest elected Democrat in the state, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), but also one of his patrons, George E. Norcross III, who has run the Democrats’ South Jersey operation for two decades.

Their crime? Getting in bed with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over a bill, up for a big hearing tomorrow, that would force all public workers (including teachers) to pay more for their health and pension benefits. Here's the script of the ad:

Senator Steve Sweeney is doing the bidding of New Jersey’s most powerful political boss – insurance broker George Norcross, who makes huge profits selling health insurance to New Jersey school districts. Sweeney even proposed sending more tax dollars to Norcross -- until the New York Times exposed him.

Now, Sweeney and Governor Christie want health care legislation that would hurt school employees, protect Norcross, and cost New Jersey taxpayers millions. Apparently, Christie and Sweeney care more about paying off political bosses than protecting taxpayers.

Norcross, insurance executive and chairman of Cooper University Hospital, says the NJEA’s attacks are directly correlated to how he has come out in favor of three of Christie’s education reform initiatives, which the unions oppose. This is the first public stance that Norcross, who operates strictly behind the scenes, has ever taken.

"And as a result of advocating for reforms and changes, the union leadership responds with attacks, threats, intimidation that had been very successful over the last several decades with other public officials of both parties and those advocating for things against the wishes of the NJEA," Norcross said in a phone call last night. "And my prediction is there's going to be an uprising in this entire state against them, the union leadership, in that they are not part of the solution to cure something that has undeniably failed throughout our entire state."

Norcross said the "something" that has failed is urban education.

Added Sweeney, in an email last night: "The NJEA is fiddling with our teachers' money while Rome burns. This $1 million attack ad won't do a thing to save the pensions of hundreds of thousands of teachers and retirees from collapse, or give property taxpayers any relief from the ever-increasing weight of health benefits that hangs around their necks. I asked for input from the NJEA, knowing the status quo was unsustainable for both their members and taxpayers. Our teachers deserve leadership that seeks solutions, not disingenuous ways to waste members' money fighting them."

The NJEA says its ad is all about the pension-and-health bill, which they say would put a Wisconsin-like halt to collective bargaining in the state, and not about Norcross's new, recent public stance with Christie on education reform. They point to a New York Times story which followed a Philadelphia Inquirer story – that they say proves Sweeney tried to sneak a sweetheart arrangement for Norcross into that bill. 

Sweeney finalized the bill in the last week with Republican Christie over the objections of much of his caucus and some Democratic leaders. His motive, the NJEA says, is to make Norcross richer. (Michael Tiagwad, the president of Norcross's company, Conner Strong & Buckelew, has said that business affected by such a measure would be "immaterial to our total business portfolio.")

The NJEA sees all of this as an unholy alliance between Christie, Norcross and Sweeney that threatens unions and children's education.

More on this later today. The NJEA is holding a 2 pm press conference outlining their case. See ad below: