ELIZABETH - A Superior Court Judge has frozen the assets of the 20th Legislative District challengers until they can prove how they begot the money they are using to finance their campaign against state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan (D-Union) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth).
Judge William Wertheimer on Friday forbade the challengers from "soliciting, collecting or accepting contributions of any kind and in any amount, including in-kind contributions from school employees, vendors, contractors or any other person having an interest in the school system that may appear to be exploited by defendants."
Specific in the judge's order are prohibition of the distribution of the Union County Reporter, the challengers' chief message delivery system, and the freezing of assets of Democrats for Change 20th and the proceeds of the May 21st event for Superintendent Pablo Munoz (pictured at the top of page).
Buried by glossy mailers with his picture on them and numerous damning taglines, Lesniak and his running mates awaited with interest the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) filings of the opposition. When they appeared a week ago today with the reporting figure of $175 reveived and on-hand, the veteran lawmaker complained.
On Saturday night at the Pines Manor in Edison, Superintendent Munoz stood in the featured role at a political fundraiser for the LD 20 challengers: Assistant Superintendent Jerome Dunn, Elizabeth City Councilman Carlos Cedeno and former Councilman Tony Monteiro.
The event was very well-attended, as supporters of the alternative slate filled the Pines' big ballroom.
"Too bad they can't spend the dollars they raised," deadpanned Lesniak.
The judge's order dragging his opponents into court on June 3rd to account for their financials represented a big entanglement landing on top of their aggressive, well-organized effort with two weeks to go before the June 7th election just as they appeared to be getting some traction.
"I formally received the endorsement of the NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) today," Dunn told PolitickerNJ.com at the Pines Saturday night.
But it wasn't the only sign that the opposition, trying to climb into state politics from its Elizabeth Board of Education power base, still lacked government clout. Earlier on the same day, Monteiro and Cedeno campaigned in Elmora at a well-attended community pizza party in the park organized by one of their allies.
A police car arrived.
"They're shutting us down," Monteiro said.
As Cedeno and Monterio worked Elizabeth ahead of the fundraiser honoring Munoz, Dunn went door to door in his hometown of Hillside.
"They have gone too far in their assault on public education," said Dunn, targeting Lesniak's Opportunity Scholarship Act, a pilot program for vouchers and Gov. Chris Christie's 2010 school aid cuts.
The latest issue of the Union County Reporter circulated the district, showing a front page split screen of Lesniak's glorious shore house on one side, replete with amenities like a yacht dock and tiki bar, contrasted with Dunn's humble Hillside domicile.
The caption for Lesniak's house reads: "The home of a political boss and attorney that has been in office over 34 years," next to the one for Dunn: "The home of a hardworking career educatior."
"I'm an educator, not a politician," the candidate underscored in a Saturday conversation with PolitickerNJ.com at the Pines.
On Friday, PolitickerNJ.com took a tour of several of the schools in Elizabeth run by the political organization founded by former Board of Ed Prez Rafael Fajardo, a local realtor. The schools are part of the fourth largest school system in the state - 23,000 students, 4,000 employees, with a proposed budget next year of over $400 million, 80% of which is Abbott School money. The Star-Ledger this weekend noted examples of family workers employed by the Board of Education, and one such school is #7, where the principal is the wife of Cedeno, and where well-behaved children in school uniforms appeared to be thriving.
In the middle of the ongoing political war with Lesniak, "You learn to compartmentalize," said Munoz.
As for Lesniak's efforts to pilot program vouchers for private - not public - schools, Munoz added with a smile, "We love competition."
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