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Absent Democratic Unanimity, Early Union Commitments Go to Christie

1-24-13

By David Cruz
NJ Today

These are the early days of the endorsement season but already Gov. Chris Christie has jumped out to an early lead, securing, over the past month, endorsements from the Laborers International Union and the Port Authority PBA.

Most politicians would rather have a union endorsement than not have it, but what do you get with that endorsement? Well, that depends on the union.

Unions can be a great source of funding. Some unions, like the Laborers International, can provide bodies to stuff envelopes, knock on doors, man phone banks and getting out the vote on election day. But Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25), who sits on the Senate Labor Committee, says a union endorsement doesn’t always necessarily translate into votes.

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“Does that mean the entire membership goes out and pulls the lever for that candidate? I don’t think so,” says Bucco. “There are a lot of individuals that may not prefer the [union] leadership’s candidate, but I think it does help them somewhat. It shows recognition to the general public that, here’s a labor union that is considering, or has decided to endorse, in this case, our Gov. Chris Christie.”

So, what do these recent endorsements for the governor translate to, and what do they say about the state of the Democrats, who, despite having one announced candidate, still seem to be trying to find themselves.

“Some of the unions are saying, ‘look, Democrats, when are you going to make up your mind,’” says Senate President Steve Sweeney, admitting that “some of the unions just like Christie.”

Sweeney notes that unions have endorsed Republicans in the past. “The Laborers are a perfect example,” he says. “They endorsed Christie Whitman over Jim McGreevey. Sometimes, people think they’re just going with a winner.”

Unions like the NJEA, the state’s largest teachers union, is expected to be in the corner of the Democrats, given their years of battling Christie, but they were unavailable to talk to us today. In fact, of the five major unions we reached out to today, none would make anyone available to speak, keeping their deliberative process a secret. Bucco thinks the fact that two unions have come out for the Republican so early should be seen as a sign that the Democrats are in trouble this election cycle.

“Usually they come out for the Democrats and they usually come out earlier for the Democrats, but I think it shows what Gov. Christie has been doing in this state,” says Bucco. “He’s on the right path.”

It’s true that, generally, Democrats get the majority of union support. In the last governor’s race, Jon Corzine got endorsements from the NJEA, both major statewide police unions and the Service Employees International, all powerful sources of money and workers. And you know how that worked out for him. The Democrats have three potential gubernatorial candidates with strong labor ties in Senators [Richard] Codey and Sweeney and Congressman Bill Pascrell. But none of them will commit to the race, and the party doesn’t seem too excited about their one announced candidate, Barbara Buono. They’ll need to get it together soon, though, before they find all the unions committed to someone else.