School board election may have future political impact
Garcia, Rhodes-Kearns, and Biancamano win seats
by Ray Smith
Reporter staff writer
May 01, 2011 | 4123 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WINNERS – Carmelo Garcia and Peter Biancamano were the two top vote getters in the April 27 school board race.
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As Carmelo Garcia, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, and Peter Biancamano celebrated their win of the Hoboken school board election Wednesday night, much political activity was still taking place behind the scenes in a town where six City Council seats are up for grabs May 10.

Some council candidates, council members, and political advisors looked closely at the Board of Education results, seeing how each of the town’s six wards voted. The fact that the mayor’s ticket lost the election was worrisome for her supporters, but others pointed out that the council races are by ward and not townwide.


“I don’t think it reflects what will happen on May 10.” – Dawn Zimmer


Many were not surprised that the “Independents for Education” group defeated “Kids First,” due to rumblings around town earlier in the week that a vote-by-mail campaign had yielded over 500 ballots, many of which went to the Independents for Education. Even with the win, the Board is still controlled by a Kids First majority. Political campaigns often secure vote-by-mail ballots in advance to provide a bit of extra insurance for their victory.

The vote tallies were as follows: On the Independents for Education slate, Garcia received 2,287 votes, Biancamano received 1,990, and Rhodes-Kearns received 1,973. For Kids First, Jean Marie Mitchell received 1,350, Clifford Godfrey received 1,319, and Steve Feinstein received 1,231. Patricia Waiters, who ran independently, received 227.

Garcia received 411 vote-by-mail ballots, Rhodes-Kearns received 405, and Biancamano received 403.

Mitchell received 47 vote-by-mail ballots, Godfrey received 48, and Feinstein received 36. Waiters received 20 vote-by-mail ballots.

Garcia said he wasn’t counting on the vote-by-mail ballots for a victory, but saw them as important because a lot of families may have been on a spring break vacation.

Not decided yet

A closer look at the results shows that they might not be such bad news for Zimmer.

The Zimmer backed Kids First candidates, Jean Marie Mitchell, Clifford Godfrey, and Steven Feinstein, were victorious in the 5th and 6th wards, and came close to a win in the 2nd Ward. These three wards are seen as serious battlegrounds in the upcoming council race.

However, in wards 1, 3, and 4, Independents for Education won handily.

The council is currently aligned 5-4 with the majority of the members voting against the mayor’s more controversial initiatives. Zimmer’s slate needs to win two out of the six seats to retake control of the council.

Wednesday night, 4th Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti gathered with 2nd Ward Councilwoman and Council President Beth Mason at an uptown after-party with Biancamano and Rhodes-Kearns.

Biancamano, a newcomer on the political scene who carries a famous last name in Hoboken stemming from the family’s Washington Street deli, said he expected the race to be closer. He received the second most votes in the city behind Garcia, with 1,990.

“I want to work to increase transparency, increase the test scores, and lower the per-pupil cost in Hoboken,” Biancamano said. “It’s also something I’ve campaigned on, but I want to see an internship program.”

Meanwhile, at a downtown establishment, Garcia partied with supporters after hearing the results in City Hall.

“I’m grateful to the voters of Hoboken,” Garcia said. “They understood that my track record spoke for itself. The students are victorious today.”

‘Kids First’ reflects

Meanwhile, in a midtown bar, a more somber mood prevailed.

The Kids First candidates and supporters, still donning their red shirts, gathered to discuss what went wrong.

Some supporters believe that a low voter turnout was the key to losing this race, as the Independents for Education, made up mostly of those who oppose Zimmer’s movement in Hoboken, have a base of voters who they can count on. “Reform” candidates often need to work harder to get out the vote, they said.

Early estimates from campaign officials indicated that the turnout was approximately 3,400 voters, compared to recent years when the turnout ranged from four to six thousand voters.

The number represented approximately 10 percent of the registered voters in Hoboken. Hoboken has 36,146 registered voters, according to the Hudson County Board of Elections.

Schools were closed last week, and candidates believe that may have been a factor in the low turnout.

Jean Marie Mitchell, who was an incumbent, said she was disappointed with the results.

“But nothing will stop my volunteerism in this community,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell received 1,350 votes, finishing in fourth.

She said she hopes part of her legacy on the board will be the selection of new school Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback.

The board had taken part in a well publicized back and forth with state and county education officials late last year trying to hire Toback, often fighting over the proposed salary cap limits from Trenton.

Clifford Godrey, a Kids First candidate who received 1,319 votes, said he “definitely wants to stay involved” in education.

“At the beginning of the race I was ‘Mr. Who?’ ” Godfrey said. “I’m just happy people came out to vote for me. I knew the risks involved with running, but I’ll continue to be involved in this community.”

Godfrey didn’t rule out the possibility of running again “if the opportunity presents itself.”

Zimmer speaks out

On Thursday, Mayor Dawn Zimmer reflected on the results.

“I’m disappointed by the results but we need to stay focused that this is about the children and moving forward,” Zimmer said. “[The board] is for the schools and making sure our schools are the best they can be.”

She added that she hopes the board will continue to work with Toback.

As far as the race being a preview to the upcoming council races, Zimmer doesn’t see the connection.

“I don’t believe there’s a direct correlation,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think it reflects what will happen on May 10.”

Came to power

In 2007, the “Kids First” slate won three out of four Board of Education seats. The council’s reform team won three out of six seats. Mason, Zimmer, and Cunningham were considered part of the reform team at the time.

In 2009, all three Kids First members, Ruth McAllister, Theresa Minutillo, and Maureen Sullivan, won all three possible seats. Sullivan has since broken away from Kids First and has been critical of them.

Recently, Kids First also received some criticism after a popular theater instructor resigned from the district. However, she soon changed her mind and was welcomed back.


A look at recent elections shows that the school board races don’t always predict elections.

After Kids First swept the school board race in 2009, Mayor Peter Cammarano edged out Zimmer for the mayoralty in May – but she was able to force a runoff and later became acting mayor after his resignation. And all three council-at-large seats went to those campaigning under the reform slate.

In 2010, Kids First won all four seats in May. But by six months later, in November, Zimmer-backed Councilman Michael Lenz was defeated by Occhipinti.

If the Board of Education elections are any indication of the May 10 Council race, Zimmer’s best chances lie in the 5th and 6th wards.

The school board candidates are scheduled to be sworn in on, ironically, May 10.

Ray Smith may be reached at


The results, without provisional ballots (last-minute and contested ballots), are:

Carmelo Garcia* - 2,287

Peter Biancamano* - 1,990

Frances Rhodes Kearns* - 1,973

Jean Marie Mitchell - 1,350

Clifford Godfrey - 1,319

Steve Feinstein - 1,231

Patricia Waiters – 277

* indicates winner

The school budget passed by a 1,321-641 vote.

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