After failing to get the necessary signatures to get the referendum for an elected board on the November ballot, activists in Bayonne had started a new drive, hoping to get the necessary signatures for a referendum on the May municipal election ballot.
“We thought we could fix the problem with the original,” said Pat Desmond, who is one of the street people working on gathering signatures. “We got 500 more after our signatures were rejected, but we weren’t allowed to add them to the ones we first gathered. So we started to get a new petition together.”
Desmond said the group, which has organized both efforts, believes that they should have been allowed to fix the problems in the first place.
“We’ve gone to court with that,” he said. “But we’re going to get more than enough this time.”
The problem for the group is that the number of necessary signatures is based on the last general election. During the first attempt, the number was based on a relatively lower election turnout for the general election in 2012. But the number of signatures for the new petition will be based on the gubernatorial election in November, which had a higher turnout.
Last fall, the County Board of Elections invalidated more than 40 percent of signatures turned in.
Michael Alonso, chairman of the Bayonne School Board Choice group, has reached out to social media networks such as Facebook in order to help get the word out.
Desmond, who is an old hand at street politics, is going to all the typical places to meet and greet people. He said the petition is getting a lot of attention from teachers who are angry with the school board over the lack of a contract.
Some teachers, amid a four-year battle with the current appointed school board, had vowed to move to an elected board as a way of getting more accountability to the public.
Teachers have been working without a contract for more than three years.
“When we go around, they not only sign, they cheer us on,” he said. “We don’t want a board that is appointed by the mayor,” Desmond said. “It’s not just this mayor, it’s any mayor. The choice should be left up to the people.”
Most of the members of the current board were appointed by Mayor Mark Smith. While James Davis—one of two candidates running against Smith—has not publicly endorsed the elected board concept, he did sign the petition.
Desmond said the group went from 500 signatures after the last failed attempt to about 3,000.
“We want to get 5,000 before we turn them in,” he said. “This thing is definitely going to get on the ballot. The teachers are signing and others are signing.”
At this point, Desmond said he’s not sure what will transpire if and when the referendum passes.
“We’re not looking for a special election,” he said. “We would be happy in seeing a school-board election held at the next general election.”
Alonso in his Facebook message said the city does not need the mayor to pick board members any more.
“We, the people of Bayonne, have a voice and we deserve a choice,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have doubts about this campaign. They don't understand that our strength isn't me ... It's the people coming together with me to create better things.”
Desmond said the Bayonne effort was encouraged by the successful effort in West New York.
“Bayonne shouldn’t be the last town in Hudson County to still have an appointed board,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.