In West New York as of Wednesday, 4,626 people voted to allow Mayor Albio Sires to continue appointing school board members, rather than having an election each April. There were 3,114 votes against that prospect.
In Union City, where Mayor Brian Stack campaigned vigorously to be able to keep appointing school board members, he won that right by a vote of 9,330 to 4,185.
"I want you all to enjoy a great victory," Stack said to his constituents on election night. "We did tremendous, and you are the ones that made this happen."
Both Sires and Stack put their records on the line and asked the townspeople to judge them on the success of the current boards.
West New York and Union City schools in the last few years have raised their scores in state standardized testing, and some of the schools were awarded Benchmark status last May, which recognizes them as some of the best urban schools in the state's Abbott "special needs" Districts.
However, controversies over displacing residents' homes for new schools, and accusations of nepotism and political involvement in the school systems, had spurred activists toward elections.
The sound of victory
While Stack, the Board of Commissioners, and their large group of volunteers met together at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen to await the numbers, not far away on 39th Street in Union City, the members of the pro-elections activist group Younity waited for the results of the election at Los Recuerdos Restaurant.
The numbers from each district in the town began to come in around 8:15 p.m., already showing positive results for the appointed board.
Supporters of Stack in the park came wearing their T-shirts that read "Vote no on public question #1" and got to enjoy free pizza and soda.
Volunteers for Stack had been walking the streets of Union City since September, and everywhere flyers could be seen on storefronts and private residences asking residents to vote "no." Meanwhile the members of Younity were doing similar door-to-door campaigning, and even launched a broadcast commercial that ran until midnight of Nov. 1.
Close to 9 p.m., the results showed 9,000 no votes with and 3,847 yes votes, with one district in Union City still out. As Stack stood up on a chair and read off some of the numbers to the crowd of supporters, he was met resounding applause and cheer.
"Considering what we were up against and having a "no" vote instead of "yes," which made it that much tougher, we did tremendous," said Stack. "It wasn't easy, but you know something we did it and you did a tremendous job."
However, Stack also made a point to say that their work does not end with this victory, that now more than ever they must continue to work hard like they always have for the good of the children.
"This is about having people come together, and this victory cannot make us cocky," said Stack. "This election was probably one of the toughest we faced, going to people and asking them to trust us. This shows us it's a great system; it's a great board. It's seven board members that do it every single day at the Board of Education."
Another victory that night was celebrated by Commissioner Tilo Rivas, who was elected as a Hudson County freeholder representing the entire district of Union City.
"This is a victory for our kids and our system," said Rivas. "It is our focus, I never had any doubt that the people of Union City wanted the best for education, and we will continue to do the best for our beautiful city."
"This was a tremendous victory when you consider the odds," said Stack. "We ran a good clean campaign and the people trust in us."
The members of Younity were also cheering together in celebration for the wide turnout they received.
"We respect the will of the people, no question," said Frank Scarafile, member of Younity. "When you take the whole thing from its inception, the goal was to get the question on the ballot, and on that end we succeeded."
Jose Falto, another member, said, "We ran a clean campaign. We simply went out there and tried to articulate the message to the public, but we were outnumbered and outspent. This was tremendous, and I'm very pleased with the numbers. It shows that some people in the town don't think everything is all rosy and there needs to be more dialogue."
Unlike Union City, things seemed quieter in West New York. Sires since the beginning had been confident in the ability and success of the appointed school board.
"We got the results [that night], and then afterwards I went to Joe Doria to congratulate him in Bayonne," said Mayor Sires. "This nothing to gloat about, and I take the school district very seriously and my appointments very seriously."
The mayor himself had placed the question on the ballot after discrepancies surrounding the petition had caused it not to pass. However, feeling that it was an important question and that the public had the right to choose how their system was run, Sires placed the referendum on the November ballot.
Up to election day, the mayor had done some mailings on the question to the residents of West New York, as well as placing phone calls in both English and Spanish, polling residents' opinions. In his last comments to the Reporter before elections, he, like Stack, put his record on the line. "The mayor is responsible for the security of the town, for taxes and for the education of the town," said Sires. "If [people] don't like what's being done they should replace the mayor."
Although West New York opted to maintain an appointed school board, the numbers had still come in close, which pleased activist Bill Parkinson, who supported an elected board.
"When you think about it, we accomplished a lot," said Parkinson. "I'm sure Albio is not happy with the situation with the numbers. I am upset we lost, because I really believe we could have won if we had the [funding]."
Challenges to the current system cannot be made by either side for at least another four years in each town.