Bayonne and Hoboken have something in common this week.
In both towns, someone asked for the resignation of a Board of Education trustee, over alleged in appropriate behavior.
This is relatively new in Bayonne, but perhaps that’s because an elected Board of Education was relatively new, reestablished two years ago to help get the school district out from under the heavy hand of mayors who traditionally appointed trustees.
So the escalating verbal dispute between Trustee Charles Ryan and Arts Director Tim Craig seems a little blown out of proportion, since Ryan, as with other board members, is struggling with a number of serious issues including unexpected shortfalls in the budget – although a number of people knew that the budget would wind up short after the elected school board voted to settle a longstanding teachers’ contract dispute.
Most of the old board members kept saying the district did not have the money to meet the teachers’ union's demands.
This is the same union that has called for Ryan’s resignation – which the Board President Joseph Broderick rightfully rejected. Ryan questioned a last-minute request for $2,000 to hire professional musicians for a new theatrical performance, at a time when board members are struggling to fill a $6 million shortfall. Most believe the tiff simply got out of hand.
Craig – the son of the former Assistant Superintendent Robert Craig – has not been popular among a number of people over the last few years, including some teachers, who felt put out when the district built a performing arts school within the high school and then named Craig’s wife to head it.
Some believe that behind the tiff between Ryan and Craig was the perception of behind-the-scenes deals that allowed family members to politically connected people to rise in the ranks, while other teachers and administrators could not.
One of the selling points behind the return of the elected school board was the idea that an elected school board would do its best to break up such family ties.
Ryan, of course, is seen as something of a maverick, someone willing to take on unpopular issues when he believes he is right. Fortunately, board members appear to be standing behind him. But then quietly, so are a number of teachers and others in the community who believe the district is back on the right path.
An intolerable situation
The Hoboken conflict is a whole different kettle of fish.
Hoboken is well-known for people saying stupid and offensive things when it comes to politics, some of which have become the stuff of political legend, such as “the Nazi Truck” incident a few years ago, in which someone hired a sound truck in an attempt to humiliate candidates.
This time, school board member Irene Sobolov mistakenly sent out a text message to other board members and the superintendent of schools that some perceived as possible homophobic slur against Councilman Michael DeFusco, who is an openly gay councilman and is rumored to be a possible candidate for mayor against incumbent Dawn Zimmer in November.
The problem is that the alleged incident does not come in a vacuum. A number of local politicos said there has been an underlying current of hostility against DeFusco, and it’s often related to his sexuality. DeFusco’s recent fundraiser for LGBT issues drew some criticism from people who ought to know better, people claiming he allegedly is using his sexual orientation to promote himself.
In town like Hoboken, with its supposed progressive values, even those sorts of remarks made in private ought to be condemned. DeFusco is not the first openly gay Hudson County politician, but he is among one a handful who are breaking new ground.
The problem isn’t Sobolov, but the behind-the-scenes remarks that aren’t made public, and it may be time for Zimmer to make it clear that she will not tolerate such language in public or in private.
All politicians should hold concerts
Karen Nason, who is currently the only other declare candidate running against Zimmer in November for mayor, has decided to have a concert as an April 19 fundraiser, featuring Jonathan Edwards.
No, we’re not talking about the 16th century Christian theologian – which would be quite a feat. She means the 1970s folk singer. Perhaps best known for his hit song, “Sunshine,” Edwards has continued to record since coming onto the music scene since 1971.
“Jonathan Edwards, singer/songwriter, is a good friend of mine,” Nason said. “He now lives in Portland, Maine. I am born and raised in Portland, Maine, but we know each other through music. I also am a songwriter and own the rights with Bill Kerby, screenplay writer, for the movie ‘The Rose’ that we have tried for years to put up [as a Broadway musical].”
Nason, owner of the Hoboken Hothouse, filed election forms earlier this year in her run for mayor, and is running a campaign focused on small businesses and their perceived problems with the current administration.
While it’s not a policy to announce upcoming political fundraisers in this column, this one is rather unusual and may start a trend. Perhaps if this is a hit, other candidates will also bring in musical talent, and we can get politicians entertain us with more than just promises.
You can bet that Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who a few years ago declined to pick a favorite member of the Beatles during a debate, may be hard pressed to book a popular band for her fundraiser.
Freeholder Anthony Romano, who once again said he is still considering running for mayor as well, might find a good Sinatra tribute artist.
I’m sure DeFusco could come up with some good performers as well. Someone should perhaps ask one-time council candidate Frank Raia, whose selection of talent for his summer birthday bash shows just how great his taste is in music.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org