ELIZBETH — State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak has asked the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to investigate allegations that his political opponents solicited campaign contributions from Elizabeth Board of Education employees on school property.
Lesniak claims that Superintendent of Schools Pablo Muñoz and Assistant Superintendent Jerome Dunn, as well as former board members Tony Monteiro Carlos Cedeño, and Raphael Fajardo “should be held responsible” for any violations.
According to Lesniak, “The two most egregious offenders are Superintendent Pablo Muñoz’s personal secretary, Annie Rooney” and the former school board President’s sister, Olga Fajardo.
Dunn, Monteiro and Cedeño were unsuccessful Democratic primary challengers in the 20th Legislative District, which is currently represented by Lesniak, Asm. Joseph Cryan, and Asw. Annette Quijano.
The insurgents ran as ‘Democrats for Change’ while the incumbents were part of the regular Democratic organization line, but both sides accused the others of being more like Republicans.
Lesniak said Rooney “made many telephone calls from her desk during regular business hours to board of education employees, sent e-mail requests for contributions from her board of education e-mail account during regular business hours and made personal visits to employees at work to solicit contributions for” the ‘Democrats for Change’ slate.
Lesniak identified Olga Fajardo as “an ‘attendance officer’ for pre-k which has no attendance requirements.”
The lawmaker claimed, “Her primary responsibility is to sell tickets to political fundraisers, which she did often on school property. The state (Department of Education) does not allow state funding to pay for the position held by Olga Fajardo because it has deemed the position unnecessary. Notwithstanding this determination, Superintendent Muñoz and then-board chairman Fajardo, hired her for the unnecessary position.”
Cedeño said that Lesniak’s charges are false and accused the state Senator of trying to embarrass his opponents.
On May 23 — two weeks before the primary election — Lesniak lawyers convinced Union County Superior Court Judge William Wertheimer to freeze the challengers’ accounts based on allegations that they failed to disclose their contributions. An appeals court overturned that ruling.
Elizabeth is the fourth largest school system in the state with 23,000 students, 4,000 employees, and an annual budget over $400 million, 80% of which is state money allocated under the Supreme Court’s Abbott rulings.
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