If there was any doubt about the level of interest in an elected school board in West New York, the 18 candidates who filed to run for two seats in the January election have put that question to rest. The two seats became available after voters approved a November referendum to switch to an elected board and add two seats to the seven-member board.
There would have been 19 candidates, but one candidate filed after the 4 p.m. deadline.
In the election, one trustee will serve for one year, the other for two, expanding the existing board to nine. Then, in April, voters will return to the polls to select three members for already-existing seats, and a special election to fill the unexpired term of Adrienne Sires, who resigned just after Thanksgiving.
In some ways, the January election will be a test of strength for Mayor Felix Roque. His political opposition has made his control over the board an issue. If he can successfully support a two-person ticket in the first election, he may well knock the wind out of his opponents before the second election.
Candidates who lose in the first election, however, could run again in the second election if they have the money and the votes.
Opponents have long complained about the Roque Administration’s influence over hiring, firing and promotions within the school district – something echoed in a state report issued earlier this year.
But more importantly, this will be a test of Roque’s political organization and whether it can still function after nearly two years of turmoil. Many of those who supported his amazing victory in 2011 have either faded away or become political enemies, leaving him with a loyal core of followers. This group may not be able to generate the votes needed to keep control of the board, and a loss of the school board will be seen as a significant blow to Roque’s reelection chances in 2015.
Getting restless already in Jersey City?
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop seems to have caught the same bug as some of his predecessors. Like Bret Schundler before him, and prior to that Thomas Smith, Fulop many want to grab the brass ring (i.e. run for governor) even before he’s finished his first term as mayor.
This has some of Fulop’s most loyal supporters wondering what exactly they fought so hard for in getting him elected mayor if he intends to climb up the proverbial beanstalk for greater treasure in the State House.
Opponents of Fulop’s, however, appear to be welcoming his move. First, they think he will likely fail. Second, his failure will create an opportunity for supporters of former Mayor Jerramiah Healy to reclaim control of Jersey City.
Schundler and Smith both failed in their bid for the State House, and some believe that much of their legacy of reform of Jersey City political culture was lost. Some fear that the decisive moves Fulop has made prior to and since his becoming mayor may suffer the same loss if he does not remain in Jersey City to oversee it.
Bayonne opposition gains steam
Police Captain Jimmy Davis isn’t exactly a household name in Bayonne. But he might be soon. One of three candidates running for mayor so far in the May 2014 election, he appears to be putting together a strong coalition of those who are unhappy with the current administration.
Davis drew in excess of 250 people to his recent fundraiser, including police officers, teachers, supporters of rent control, and some political people who have not found a place inside the administration of Mayor Mark Smith.
Teachers are unhappy about their lack of a contract, and some teachers blame Smith because the Board of Education is appointed by the mayor. Rent control advocates are unhappy because the City Council voted to phase out rent control in the city as a tool for attracting new development and getting existing landlords to upgrade their housing stock.
Smith, of course, took over office in 2008 in the height of the economic downturn many call the Great Recession. With the city deeply in debt and an annual budget deficit in the tens of millions of dollars, Smith imposed an austerity program that reduced the size of government, restructuring its departments while at the same time abolishing some of its autonomous agencies. Some critics believe this was smoke and mirrors, and they complain about alleged favoritism in hiring, promotions, and other benefits, to those loyal to the administration.
This election – which has kicked off months ahead of the usual January kickoff – comes at a curious time for Bayonne. Supporters of Smith say the city is poised to live up to its potential as the southernmost end of the Hudson County Gold Coast, and say that a change of administration could endanger this rebirth. Opponents are convinced that the next four years will be more of the same as the last four years, and believe that Bayonne needs a significant change that will bring a new vision.
Behind the scenes, some heavyweights from outside Bayonne, hope to get their piece of the action. Opponents of Smith hope to fuel bad feelings they believe exist between Fulop and Smith over Smith’s support of Fulop’s opponent in the Jersey City election earlier this year.
Smith people claim these bad feelings are exaggerated.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.