NJEA Sees New Leadership with Exec Director, No Lobbyist in Place

Assistant Director Swetsky will fill executive director slot, but union yet to decide on chief lobbyist
NJEA headquarters, TrentonCredit: Google Earth
NJEA headquarters, Trenton

The New Jersey Education Association — by most accounts the state’s most powerful union – is about to go through a change in leadership just as several big issues and elections are looming.

The 200,000-member union confirmed that Edward Richardson, the executive director for five years, will be stepping down Dec. 1 to be replaced by Steve Swetsky. The new top exec has served as assistant director for five years, and has a background as a local leader and field representative within the NJEA.

In addition, the union is still looking to fill one of its highest-profile positions: chief lobbyist. Technically its director of government relations, the position is integral in deciding the political strategies for the union, including through its political action committee.

Ginger Gold Schnitzer held the post for 12 years before stepping down in January. The empty slot is being filled on an interim basis by Kevin Kelleher, the NJEA’s director of research.

Details to come

Steve Baker, the NJEA’s communications director, said yesterday there were not many details to share as yet, as the union plans a more extensive announcement closer to Richardson’s Dec. 1 departure.

He did say the union plans on filling the government relations position soon but offered no details. “It’s a critical hire, especially with the transition of leadership,” he said. “I think you will see something pretty soon.”

All these positions are critical as the NJEA faces a host of issues under the current administration and Legislature, not to mention the election of the full Assembly in November and the lead-up to the governor’s race in 2021.

Its alliance with Gov. Phil Murphy is safe, but the union also continues to battle the Democratic-led Legislature — namely Senate President Steve Sweeney — on issues involving pensions, health benefits and other concerns.

A new issue stems from the state board of education’s recent reluctance to endorse a change to the state’s student-testing regimen, long an anathema to the union.

The board is expected to make a decision in the next several weeks on whether it will accept the administration’s plan to scale back testing. NJEA president Marie Blistan has scolded the board for hesitating on the plan, and the debate is unlikely to diminish even after the decision.

One thing that will remain stable for the time being are the union’s elected officers. Blistan was recently re-elected as president, serving her second two-year term until August 2021.