By Dari Kotzker
Gov. Chris Christie chalked up a big endorsement — from Bishop Reginald Jackson, executive director of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council. Jackson likes the Republican governor’s support of school vouchers. Four years ago, he endorsed Democrat Jon Corzine. Before that, he backed Republican governors Christie Todd Whitman and Tom Kean.
“Why Chris Christie over Sen. Barbara Buono who I have known for many years and who is a wonderful, warm and genuine person? The answer can be summed up in one word — education,” Jackson said.
“I’m not a political pundit, I’m not going to evaluate the weight of one endorsement over anther,” Buono said. “I don’t support giving public taxpayer money to private and parochial schools.”
Immediately, a rift opened amongst African-American ministers. Middlesex County based Reverend Ronald Owens, who is also Buono’s senior religious advisor, co-wrote a letter in her support. He claimed Christie offered empty rhetoric to black and Latino groups.
“For me, I haven’t seen any improvement in the education system,” Owens said. “My question is what have you done for the black and Hispanic communities of New Jersey?”
So is there infighting within the New Jersey African-American clergy?
“This is all about school vouchers, it’s all about urban education system, the Opportunity Act which is really the one piece of legislation that I think this all boils around and I think it’s one of the reasons why we see these urban ministers against the suburban ministers because in suburban ministers, vouchers is not a big as an issue as it is in the urban areas,” Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray said.
Reverend Owens says Buono’s lack of name recognition may be one of the reasons Jackson endorsed Christie, but there could be another issue.
“I think for many of the black clergy of New Jersey, one of the major concerns that they have for the state of New Jersey is same-sex marriages, which is predominately on their minds. And not having that in New Jersey is paramount in their thoughts,” Owens said.
Will Jackson’s endorsement sway African-American voters?
“We haven’t seen this kind of endorsement really have a lot of influence on voters and in fact, with the Senate race happening three weeks before this, I think we’re going to see a lot more urban voters come out for that Senate race than will come out for the gubernatorial race,” Murray said.
Reverend Owens says in September there will be a major campaign summit with New Jersey’s black clergy who will publicly endorse Buono. Although he couldn’t reveal names at this point, he did say some nationally recognized religious leaders will be at the event.