Bret Schundler

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Bret Schundler
Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education
In office
March 11, 2010 – August 27, 2010
GovernorChris Christie
42nd Mayor of Jersey City
In office
November 11, 1992 – June 30, 2001
Preceded byJoseph Rakowski
Succeeded byGlenn Cunningham
Personal details
Born (1959-01-14) January 14, 1959 (age 60)
Colonia, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican (1991–present)
Other political
Democratic (before 1991)
EducationHarvard University

Bret D. Schundler (born January 14, 1959) is an American politician from New Jersey. He served in the Cabinet of Governor Chris Christie as New Jersey Commissioner of Education until he was dismissed on August 27, 2010.[1]

Schundler was the mayor of Jersey City from 1992 until 2001. Schundler was the city's first Republican mayor since 1917. Earlier in his life, Schundler was a Democrat and was the State Coordinator in New Jersey for Gary Hart's 1984 campaign for President. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey in 2001, and tried again for the same post in 2005, but failed to secure the Republican nomination. He then served as the chief operating officer of The King's College, a Christian liberal arts college in New York City.

Early life[edit]

Schundler grew up in Woodbridge Township and Westfield, New Jersey as the youngest of nine children. At Westfield High School, he was an All-State football player.[2] He was recruited by Harvard University, where, to help pay for his tuition, he washed dishes, cleaned bathrooms, and worked as a security guard. He graduated with honors in 1981. Schundler's ethnic heritage is German and Barbadian.

Following his graduation from college, Schundler worked for Democratic Congressman Roy Dyson of Maryland. He later worked for Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign. After Hart lost the primary, Schundler began his career in finance in the sales department of Salomon Brothers. While he had no experience in the field, his interviewer thought that anyone who could sell Hart in western Iowa had a future in finance. In 1987, he moved to a different firm, C. J. Lawrence, which has since been absorbed into Deutsche Bank, where he did very well financially. He retired in 1990, and after traveling around the world for a year, changed his registration to Republican. He later said that he felt the Democrats had been taken captive by special interests.

Mayor of Jersey City[edit]

His first run for elective office was an unsuccessful campaign for the New Jersey Senate in 1991, where despite the partisan nature of the election and the overwhelmingly Democratic composition of the district (only 6% of voters were registered Republicans), Schundler lost to incumbent Edward T. O'Connor, Jr. by only a 55.1% to 44.9% margin.[3] The next year, Gerald McCann was removed as mayor of Jersey City because of a criminal conviction unrelated to his public duties, and Schundler entered the special election to finish the remaining eight months of McCann's term. He won the election with 17 percent of the vote in a crowded field of 19 candidates. Like most major cities in New Jersey, Jersey City elections are officially nonpartisan.[4] While Schundler never billed himself as a Republican on his campaign literature or ads, he was known to be a Republican based on his run for the State Senate a year earlier, and he is thus reckoned as the first Republican to hold the post since 1917. Contributing to his victory was the fact that two African American candidates split the Black vote, and two siblings (Lou and Allen Manzo), also split a large number of votes.[5]

Once in office, Schundler developed a reputation as a politician who could not be "bought off." This strongly resonated in a city with a long legacy of corruption dating to the Frank Hague era. He subsequently won a full term in 1993 with 69% of the vote—the largest margin of victory since Jersey City returned to the Mayor-Council form of government in 1961, and according to some sources, in the city's entire history. He won a second full term in 1997, winning a run-off election by a substantial margin.

During his tenure as mayor, Schundler reduced crime, lowered property taxes, increased the city's tax collection rate and property values, instituted medical savings accounts for city employees and privatized the management of the city's water utility. He also led the fight to pass New Jersey's charter school legislation. Moreover, according to a Harvard University study,[6] during his tenure Jersey City led the 100 largest cities in America in job growth and poverty reduction.

Schundler attracted considerable national attention because he was the Republican mayor of an overwhelmingly Democratic city. During his tenure, Jersey City remained a Democratic stronghold, as it has been for over a century. Indeed, on the same night as Schundler's special election win, Bill Clinton carried Hudson County (which includes Jersey City) by an overwhelming margin, which was enough to swing New Jersey into the Democratic column for the first time since 1964. Clinton carried Hudson County by an even larger margin in 1996. Additionally, no Republican has represented a significant portion of Jersey City in Congress in over a century, and Schundler was succeeded by a Democrat, Glenn Cunningham, in 2001.

2001 gubernatorial campaign[edit]

Towards the end of his tenure as mayor, Schundler served as chairman of the Hudson County Republican Committee, and in 2001, Schundler ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, facing former Congressman Bob Franks, who was favored by the party establishment. Franks entered the race in April, two months before the primary, after Governor Donald DiFrancesco dropped out of the race because of an unending series of newspaper stories highlighting ethics concerns. Franks was backed by Governor DiFrancesco's political organization, which gave him the endorsement of every county Republican committee except Schundler's in Hudson County and the Republican committee in Monmouth County led by William F. Dowd.

Schundler ran on a conservative platform, which was somewhat unusual since most New Jersey Republicans tended to be moderate-to-liberal by national standards. He employed a more grassroots style of campaigning, visiting many local GOP organizations and forming close relationships with the Young Republicans and the College Republicans, as well as with conservative groups, including those active in homeschooling issues. This grassroots campaign enabled him to win the nomination by a robust 14% margin.

After winning the primary, Schundler tried to reunite the party by reaching out to the figures who had endorsed Franks. This included having a unity lunch with Franks which was hosted by former governor Tom Kean, and retaining State Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos as state party chairman. Kyrillos had been appointed by DiFrancesco as state party chairman six weeks before the primary, and he had supported Franks in the primary. However, the party remained split. The Democratic candidate, Woodbridge Township Mayor Jim McGreevey (the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in 1997), exploited this division by painting Schundler as too conservative for New Jersey. Schundler made frequent campaign appearances on the late Bob Grant's radio show to help bring voters out on election day.[7][8] Schudler travelled to Israel as part of campaign to court the Jewish vote, and while there, the historic September 11 attack on the World Trade Center happened. The attack caused most air traffic in the US to be shut down for weeks, leaving Shundler stranded in Israel less than a month before the election.[9] In the November election, Schundler was badly defeated, gaining 42% of the vote to McGreevey's 56%. Schundler even lost Hudson County by 50,000 votes.

Schundler did not run for office again until the 2005 gubernatorial campaign, but remained as one of the most visible spokesmen for conservative Republicans in New Jersey.

2005 gubernatorial campaign[edit]

Schundler's 2005 gubernatorial campaign focused on the issue of property taxes. He proposed a series of state constitutional amendments to control state and local spending in New Jersey, with the savings dedicated to property tax reduction statewide.

As in 2001, Schundler focused mostly on grassroots campaigning. However, he also targeted Republican County Conventions to spread his message and won several county endorsements. Besides his base in Hudson County, he also won the endorsement of the Republican organizations in Monmouth, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties.

In the week before the primary election, Schundler's campaign was criticized for using a photograph on its website that showed Schundler apparently standing with a crowd of enthusiastic young supporters. The photograph, which appeared for only a few days on a web page advertising campaign T-shirts and mugs, had actually been taken at a Howard Dean rally in 2004, with Dean's image digitally replaced by Schundler's and with campaign signs, hats, and shirts modified as well.[10] Schundler's campaign responded that the photograph had been prepared by the campaign's website contractor (which had done work for the Dean campaign), and that the campaign had had the picture taken down when it learned of the miscue.

Schundler lost the primary to Doug Forrester, who had been New Jersey's Republican nominee for United States Senate in 2002. Forrester's considerable wealth enabled him to outspend Schundler during the campaign by about 6-1. The results were:

Schundler carried Union, Hudson, Hunterdon and Somerset counties. He had the county line in Somerset and Hudson and shared it with Forrester in Hunterdon. Forrester held the county line in Union County, which was the only county where he had the line but still lost in the primary.

2009 Jersey City mayoral campaign[edit]

On August 14, 2008 Schundler confirmed in a news interview his intent to run for the office of Mayor of Jersey City in the 2009 election.[11] Schundler stated that his formal announcement would happen after the 2008 presidential election.[11] He would have faced Mayor Jerramiah Healy, former Assemblyman Louis Manzo and community activist Dan Levin for the mayor's office. State Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham, the widow of Schundler's successor as mayor, was considering a race for mayor. Councilman Steven Fulop announced that he would not run for mayor in 2009. On January 12, 2009, Bret Schundler dropped his bid for mayor citing financial difficulties due in part to the ongoing financial meltdown on Wall Street.[12]

Commissioner of Education[edit]

On January 13, 2010, Governor-Elect Chris Christie announced that Schundler was his nominee to serve as New Jersey Commissioner of Education.[13] On March 11, the New Jersey Senate approved his nomination by a vote of 35-2.[14] On August 27, 2010, he was dismissed by Governor Christie after an error on a $400 million Race to the Top education grant may have contributed to New Jersey narrowly missing out on the government funding.[15]

Other activities and family[edit]

Schundler was a Professor of Public Policy at The King's College, a Christian liberal arts college located in the Empire State Building. On January 20, 2009, he was named COO of the college.[16] The King's College is accredited in New York,[17] and by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.[18]

Schundler was also Managing Partner of People Power America, LLC, which licenses TeamVolunteer, an online utility that helps political campaigns and non-profit organizations coordinate phone banks.[citation needed] He is currently[when?] the principal of School Partners, LLC, a firm that provides consulting to charter schools on everything from facility finance to their education program.[citation needed]

Schundler and his wife, Lynn, have two children, a daughter named Shaylin and a son named Hans Otto III.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Staff. "Biography of former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler", The Star-Ledger, August 27, 2010. Accessed March 5, 2011. "Born: Morristown, grew up in Woodbridge and Westfield. Hometown: Jersey City. Education: Graduated Westfield High School in 1977."
  3. ^ NJ Senate District 31 - History, Accessed May 27, 2010.
  4. ^ "In N.J., GOP governor's race has taken on shrill tone". USA Today. June 25, 2001. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  5. ^ "THE 1992 ELECTIONS: THE REGION -- MAYOR'S RACE; Schundler, Jersey City's Mayor-Elect, Gets Ready to Battle Anew". The New York Times. November 5, 1992. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  6. ^ State of the Inner City Economies: New Learning Archived May 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Bergen Record Archived November 23, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b Thorbourne, Ken (2008-08-15). "Bret: Bring Me Back". The Jersey Journal. Retrieved 2008-08-15.
  12. ^ Torres, Agustin (2008-01-12). "Bret Schundler drops out of Jersey City mayoral race". Jersey Journal. Retrieved 2008-01-12.
  13. ^ Halbfinger, David M. (January 14, 2010). "To Lead Schools, Christie Picks Vouchers Advocate". New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2011.
  14. ^ "N.J. Senate approves Bret Schundler for education commissioner". The Star-Ledger. 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-03-24.
  15. ^ "Christie dismisses Bret Schundler as ed chief". The Daily Journal (New Jersey). 2010-08-28. Archived from the original on 2012-09-11. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
  16. ^ Archived from the original on 2010-01-04. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ Institution Accreditation - Search Page Archived 2008-07-04 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Middle States Commission on Higher Education

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Rakowski
Mayor of Jersey City
Succeeded by
Glenn Cunningham
Party political offices
Preceded by
Christine Todd Whitman
Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Doug Forrester