The candidates are divided into three slates, and each person is running for a three-year term on the nine-member board.
Mayor Felix Roque said he has not yet made a decision as to whom he will support, and wants to meet all the candidates.
“I’m going to try to interview them all,” Roque said. “This way, I can see who the better candidates are, and then make a recommendation.”
Roque has drawn fire in the past for heavily involving himself in the town’s school board elections. A May 2013 report by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance alleged that Roque pushed for family and friends to get school jobs and promotions in the district.
The mayor has brushed off the criticisms, saying he can endorse whoever he wants. He argues that he has brought new, young minds onto the board.
“I’m going to try to interview them all.” – Felix Roque
The "Your Children's Future" slate submitted 572 petition signatures to the Hudson County Clerk for the race, according to a press release. Their candidates include current board trustee Jonathan Castaneda, and former trustees Adrienne Kole-Sires, the wife of U.S. Rep Albio Sires, and Joseph Rodriguez, husband of freeholder Caridad Rodriguez.
Both Kole-Sires and Rodriguez have previously served on the board. Kole-Sires is a former board president. She was a French teacher at Memorial High School and has 37 years of experience in the district. During her time at West New York schools, Kole-Sires was instrumental in implementing the Early Childhood program for 3 and 4-year-olds in town.
Rodriguez played a crucial role in acquiring the former St. Joseph of The Palisades High School, which today is the West New York Freshman Academy. He is a former chair of the West New York Housing Authority.
Castaneda serves as a delegate to the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Kole-Sires' inclusion comes at an interesting time, because her husband has declared his intent to help oust Roque in the 2019 town elections for commissioners (mayor is ultimately chosen from the five-member Board of Commissioners).
He is backing an opposition commission slate, West New York Stability 2019, to run against the mayor.
However, Adrienne Kole-Sires downplayed the matter. “It really isn’t connected at all,” she said. “I’m not involved in his political life; we’re two separate individuals.”
Board trustee Lorena Portillo is also running on a school board slate. It originally included residents Jesus Aristy and Carlo Fortunio.
However, Fortunio, the pastor at the Holy Redeemer Parish on 65th Street, suddenly dropped out of the race, little over a week after the filing deadline. Sources speaking to a news outlet claimed that ranking members of his congregation believed the position would be too political for him, and would be a disservice to them.
Portillo herself has sparred with other board members over issues such as alleged voter fraud.
Last year, controversy brewed when former board candidate Jose Alcantara filed a complaint with the County Board of Elections, alleging that Alex Navas, Portillo's significant other who ran unsuccessfully last November, did not actually reside at their stated West New York address. However, the West New York Reporter did find the couple living at the residence when it visited last year.
Both Fortunio and Aristy will be seeking office for the first time, according to a news report.
Controversy not new
Controversy is nothing new to the town’s board elections. Alcantara found himself embroiled in a snafu when he ran in 2016. At the time, opposing candidate John Smith asked him to apologize for old Tweets in which he used profanity and promoted marijuana usage. Both candidates were unsuccessful in their efforts to win board seats.
A third and final slate includes George Payan, who has previously campaigned for Roque; Richie Acosta, a lifelong West New Yorker; and Cheryl Barona.
Alcantara is backing the slate, according to media reports.
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com