It is not easy to understand why so many people would rush to take up petitions to run for school board around the county.
Being a school board member is a thankless job for which participants should be granted sainthood, although there are some who would use the post as "a stepping stone" to higher office, or to let their political masters keep control of the board so that it won't breed possible opponents.
Union City's Board of Education, although an appointed body, has long been the broth from which political power brews. But other towns have also seen new leaders emerge from their own broth.
The chess game of elections can be filled with amazing twists. People who file for seats may not actually seek to get elected at all. With the ability to drop out after a week, some candidates may file in order to made a deal with the current administration to obtain a job or a political favor in exchange for their withdrawal.
The strategy of this involves several factors.
For one, the more people you have in a school race, the less predictable its outcome. By spreading out the vote, a candidate needs fewer votes to take a seat. Similar candidates with similar beliefs steal votes from each other, leaving a different candidate with an unchallenged base or a better chance of slipping past. Thus, if candidates A and B stand for roughly the same issues, they will divide the vote.
A wise politician may front a candidate to enter a race in order to cut the vote of someone running against the candidate he really wants. Some have called this the Hudson County Swerve. This might be the case in the 31st District where Mayor Glenn Cunningham has white candidate Louis Manzo running for Assembly to cut the white vote from Bayonne, while the black vote in Jersey City comes out in large numbers for independent Democrat Rev. Edward Allen.
While not every board candidate who drops out of a race within the first week - as prescribed by state law - has made a deal, such moves often reflect factional conflicts and efforts to gain power within a group, and bear watching later when jobs or favors are dolled out.
Those who remain in these races also warrant watching, especially later after the race has been run. Does one of these clone candidates suddenly get rewarded with a job in town or in the school?
In Secaucus, the posturing of candidates and the eventual withdrawal may have involved numerous elements. Daniel Amico, nephew of the former mayor there, seems to have played a role in this year's batch of candidates. Members elected to this year's board will oversee the likely replacement of the superintendent and be part of a possible arrangement with municipal officials for constructing a recreation center.
Three of the original seven candidates, Mark Bruschino, Kathy Huber-O'Connell and incumbent John Voli, withdrew by the deadline, leaving the race in Secaucus between a three-candidate ticket of Mauro DeGennaro, Angelo Andriani, John Shinnick vs. former Councilman George Heflich Jr.
In Jersey City, Rev. Edward Allen's withdrawal from the Board of Education race raised a few eyebrows, particularly considering his role as a spokesperson on that body for Cunningham. While he still maintains his position on the county Schools of Technology board, his voice will be muffled and less effectual.
Former Jersey City Mayor Anthony Cucci, at 80, has put his name up for the board, competing for a spot with Ron Clark, Dean Frasier, William DeRosa, Hillary Zackroff-Jersey, Nadia Gomez, Robert Rosairo and Janet Murphy.
The most difficult chore for political mainstream in Weehawken will be getting the vote out, since three candidates, two of them incumbents, will seek three seats: Richard Barsa, Joseph Rutigliano and Alberto Cabrera. Equally tiny Guttenberg has six candidates seeking three seats: Mayra Villamarzo, Diana Velez, Barbara P. Criscione, Chung P. Mak, Louis A. Lopez, and Edith Stokes.
In North Bergen, Inan Hosein was dropped from the ballot because his application was not filled in properly. Board officials said they notified him to come in and correct the deficiency, but he failed to do so by the deadline. This leaves five candidates vying for three seats, including the irrepressible Herb Shaw and William Koehler challenging incumbents Maurena Luizzi, Stewart Feldman and Julio Marencho for three-year terms. Luiz Diaz is running unopposed for a fourth seat with a two-year term.
In a race that featured 11 people filing for three seats - with only Douglas Peterson dropping out later - the most startling fact about the Hoboken Board of Education election may be the running of 80-year-old former Hoboken Mayor Steve Cappiello. Yet a more serious undertone to this election may be the support of current Mayor Dave Roberts for a ticket of candidates previously associated with former Mayor Anthony Russo: David Anthony, Wanda Santana-Alicea and Frank Raia.
"I'm not worried about who these candidates supported in the past," Roberts said. "I just know what they did now, and what they promise to do for the future. They are people who have the best interests of the children of Hoboken, and that's why I'm supporting them."
Does Roberts have any friends?
With more than 31 petitions taken out for council races in Hoboken's municipal elections, people have begun to ask what it is that Mayor Dave Roberts has done wrong to inspire so many people to seek to unseat his ticket.
Doesn't Roberts have any friends?
Some critics such as Councilman Tony Soares claim Roberts betrayed the philosophy that had brought him into the mayor's seat in 2001 - pointing to the recent hiring of several people formerly associated with former Mayor Anthony Russo, and the support in the school board election for a slate that could easily be mistaken for one that Russo might have put up.
But Roberts says that he is choosing candidates according to their accomplishments.
"The public is more interested in the work people are doing than their political affiliations," Roberts noted. "What I want are want politicians that cast a vote when I need it."
But perhaps Roberts - as one observer of the Hoboken scene suggests - has learned he can trust only those people who owe their livelihood to him.
"What you're seeing is Roberts looking back to people who were loyal to their boss," said one official from elsewhere in the county. "Those people were very loyal to Russo, and Roberts may feel he wants people around him that show some loyalty."
The political rabble that helped Roberts get elected turned on him partly because he was unwilling or incapable of giving them the benefits they wanted from municipal government.
But the spate of petitions may have more to do with people seeing an opportunity to get ahead at Roberts' expense than at any particular dissatisfaction with him.
In politics, as in swimming in warm water oceans of the world, any sign of weakness brings out the sharks. And many people may believe that Roberts is vulnerable.
Roberts - in selecting former Russo people - may be growing stronger rather than weaker, setting up an administration harder to displace in the future.
Nicolo Machiavelli in his political masterpiece, The Prince made two important observations: A coalition that gets you to power often won't last because the diversity of people often disagree once in power, and if you want someone out of power, you have to strike early before people depend upon that leader for their livelihoods.