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Spotlight: NJEA lobbyist

The Statehouse face of what is probably New Jersey's most powerful union, Ginger Gold Schnitzer got into politics with Bill Bradley, the championship New York Knicks and ultimately a drive to do "important work."

Ginger Gold Schnitzer

Title: Director of Government Relations, New Jersey Education Association

Age: 41

Why she matters: Schnitzer is the lead Statehouse lobbyist for arguably New Jersey’s most powerful political lobby, the union representing 200,000 active and retired teachers and staff. The NJEA has taken a political beating from Gov. Chris Christie in his first five months, but it hasn’t dulled Schnitzer’s presence and energy in the halls and committee rooms where laws are crafted and enacted.

It started with the Knicks: Schnitzer’s path to politics started young, when she was a New York Knicks fan in their championship years. When Bill Bradley came to her hometown of Plainsboro in his campaign for U.S. Senate, she went with her parents to listen and was hooked. "I don’t remember what he said. I spent the whole time looking for Willis Reed and Earl the Pearl. But we went around stuffing mailboxes for him, and when he won, I thought it was because of me."

Why the NJEA: A Douglass College graduate, and then Villanova Law, she instead pursued a career in government relations, first working for well-known lobbyist Nancy Becker before joining NJEA in 1997. She was named its director of government relations in 2007. "As a lobbyist I had gotten to know a little bit about a lot of things, but it didn’t really allow me to really become an expert in things I was passionate about. I really feel I am doing important work for important people."

Trial under fire: "I tell people I have the best job in the world, in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. I believe this battle has made us bigger and stronger. It’s improved our communication with our membership, and I don’t think we’ve ever been closer than now."

But really, hasn’t NJEA taken a hit? "This whole battle has driven his negatives up and driven our negatives up. And the legislature’s negatives are probably worse than both of ours. Nobody wins when the conversation is at this level."

The lobbyist’s job doesn’t change much: “As lobbyists, we’re not allowed to take it personally. We have to advocate for public policies whether the water is hot or cold. If you don’t keep talking, you won’t get anything done."

More critical than her cell phone: "A lobbyist only has two things worth anything, information and credibility. I am attached to my cell phone, and people make fun of it, but most important is I have to have good information and I have to be trusted."

There’s always baseball: A big Yankees fan, Thurman Munson tops her list of all-time favorites. And she wouldn’t mind manager Joe Girardi’s job, if ever offered. "This is the first time in the last six years when I haven’t played Fantasy Baseball. I miss checking all the games and statistics. But my job is taking a lot of time these days."

Hometown: Plainsboro, where she lives with her husband, Jay, and two-year-old daughter.

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