If there is anything remotely like tea leaves for reading the political future, it’s this year’s Board of Education elections, leaving distinct winners and losers – especially in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Secaucus.
Despite the call from Gov. Christopher Christie for voters to reject their school budgets (so they could be cut even further), voters in every local town except Guttenberg and North Bergen approved their school budgets. Weehawken, with a more than 80 percent approval rate, led the state.
By far the biggest winner in this school board election was Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop, whose three candidates won. This proved once and for all that he could win a citywide election, a good sign for his organization, which is poised to elect him as mayor in 2013.
Not only did he get all of his three candidates elected, but he managed to keep his arch rival, incumbent Gerald McCann, and McCann’s running mates from being elected. Since it is generally believed McCann had the backing of Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Fulop took a huge step towards becoming a dominant force on the Jersey City political scene.
This victory will not only bring in a lot of new funding from people who want to be on the winning ticket, it will give Fulop a say in who will be the next chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) this June.
While many claim the battle to lead the HCDO is between County Executive Tom DeGise and state Sen./Union City Mayor Brian Stack, some are pushing to have Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith named as a compromise candidate.
Next month’s Bayonne mayoral
Remarkably, a lot is riding on the Bayonne municipal election on May 11.
Mayor Smith is being challenged by Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone and retired police officer Leonard Kantor.
Smith internal polls claim he has a significant enough lead to win without a runoff election. To avoid a runoff, a candidate must get 50 percent plus one vote of the total votes cast.
Although Smith has run a positive campaign to date, many expect him to go negative in the two weeks prior to the May 11 election.
In some ways, Smith has been a punching bag for negative ads by Chiappone. But if Smith strikes back, he could lose support and drive up numbers for Kantor, possibly sending the election into a runoff.
This would hurt Smith’s chances for becoming the compromise choice for chairman of the HCDO.
Democrats are currently torn between supporting Stack – who reportedly has the support of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez – and supporting DeGise.
Smith is seen as an up-and-coming force in the county, but since the HCDO has to pick a new chairman in early June, a runoff later in June for Smith might put his nomination in jeopardy.
The May 11 election also puts at risk Smith’s control of the Bayonne City Council, since it is very likely that a number of the council races will wind up in runoff elections.
A big victory for Zimmer
The two biggest winners in the Hoboken school board election are Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her close ally, Councilman Michael Lenz, both of whom threw their support behind the Kids First ticket and won.
Zimmer proved that her endorsement counts. And this will benefit Lenz’s reelection effort during the special 4th Ward election in November.
The school election victory also proved that Kids First has become a brand name for the reform movement, and since Lenz is seen as one of the founders of the modern reform movement, he can expect this wave of support to follow him into the November election.
The only downside is that Zimmer and Kids First will have to deliver on their promises, a tall order in these problematic economic times.
Secaucus superintendent can breathe a sigh of relief
In Secaucus, the biggest victor was the superintendent of schools, who has come under fire from many of the candidates who lost.
True to his word, Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli stayed out of the election, allowing voters to choose between a field of independents and the remnants of the old Democratic regime.
Voters clearly chose to support independent voices on the Board of Education, but not the ones you might expect.
The victory of MaryAnn Weiner might suggest that her husband, Peter Weiner, who ran last year against then-Mayor Dennis Elwell in the Democratic primary, has the cachet for a possible Town Council race as an independent next November.
Cammarano’s hard choice Peter Cammarano, who has the distinction of serving as mayor of Hoboken for three whole weeks, pleaded guilty to three counts in federal court last week. Due for sentencing in August, he will likely face two years in federal prison and possible hefty fines. Perhaps the worst part will be the loss of his law license. Why he decided to cop a plea is up to speculation, but it is pretty certain that if he had taken the case to court and lost, he would have seen the maximum sentence of 20 years.
Why so few election hours in Jersey City?
You go to vote in the Jersey City school board election, and the polls aren’t open until after 1 p.m. You have to wonder with so little turnout in these elections, why officials wouldn’t want to spread the hours so as to give people more of an opportunity to vote – especially for voters who would stop off at the polls on their way to work.
Perhaps there is a subliminal message being sent to the masses: “Stay away!”
In a year when voters have been encouraged by Gov. Christopher Christie to vote down excessive budgets, you have to think fewer hours means fewer voters, and fewer opportunities for voters to vote against the $618 million budget.
What’s next – vote by appointment?