NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (WPIX)—A memo that jokingly prays for the death of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has heightened the acrimony between the state's Republican administration and its most powerful teachers union.
The Bergen County Education Association sent out the combative memo to supporters this week. It closes with a mock prayer that reads:
"Dear Lord ... this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman Billy Mays.... I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."
Christie reponded to the fake prayer at a news conference in New Brunswick Friday.
"To have the leader of the union send out an email to 17,000 members to tell them to pray for my death just goes beyond the pale," Christie said.
When the death wish joke became public, the union backpeddled.
"Obviously, it's inappropriate. I would never wish anybody dead," said Joe Coppola, who is President of the BCEA. Coppola signed the firey memo which also encourages union members to "get some dirt" and "go public" with attacks on Christie and the state's Education Commissioner, Bret Schundler.
The BCEA is a branch of the statewide union, known as the New Jersey Education Association.
Christie has spent much of his first year in office attacking the teachers unions he says are bankrupting local governments by demanding overly generous salary and benefits packages.
Union leaders emphasized that the fake prayer was a joke and was never intended to be made public. Christie wasn't convinced.
"So private prayer for my death would have been okay, but public prayer for my death would have been wrong," he quipped.
The death wish memo is part of the NJEA campaign against Christie's demand that teachers accept a wage freeze and contribute 1.5% of their salaries to healthcare.
The Republican governor has also locked horns with the NJEA over plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to schools. In February, school districts were stung by Christie's decision to slash $475 million in education funding. The Governor is pushing a budget for next year that would cut an additional $820 million in state aid for schools.
The cuts would amount to about 5% of the average school district's budget. New Jersey is facing a mid-year budget gap of more than $2 billion.
Christie said he got death threats from street gangs like the Latin Kings when he served as US Attorney. He suggested the union memo was not the sort of speech he views as criminal.
"Let's be serious. I don't think this is a threat. I think it's a wish, but in some sense a wish may be more perverse than a threat."