Muhammed Akil, the disgraced former chief of staff to Mayor Steven Fulop, appeared be involved in discussions with current Jersey City United Board of Education candidate Matt Schapiro and Better Education Institute, Inc. Executive Director Shelley Skinner back in June, according to an email chain.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
In an email from Skinner, dated June 24 and sent to Schapiro at 4:12 p.m., she asks “can you set up a date for you me and Muhammed to meet with this candidate you like so much.”
Schapiro, a former political operative for the Parents for Progress team, responded on June 25 at 4:14 p.m. with “K. when are you available this week?”
After exchanging a few more brief emails, the two agree to meet between 2 and 3 p.m. on Friday (which would’ve been July 1), along with a candidate only identified as “Jose.”
Jose Vazquez, a relatively unknown candidate, dropped out of the Jersey City BOE race in mid-August prior to the county’s ballot drawing.
Then, on June 26 at 8:29 a.m., Skinner emails Akil, who was eventually forced out of municipal government in Jersey City after hate speech from the 90’s surfaced, asking if he can join the three for the Friday afternoon meeting.
“Muhammed, can you meet with a potential BOE candidate on Thursday at 2 or 3pm in JC?,” she said.
Responding to an inquiry from Hudson County View last night, Skinner seemed to acknowledge the email chain between her, Schapiro, and Akil was authentic, but doubled down in saying that B4K had no role in the JCU campaign.
“Thank you for your email regarding the correspondence dated June 24th to June 26th. Back in June, B4K was exploring the field of potential school board candidates for this November’s school board race,” she said via email.
“This was long before any of the candidates, or slates had declared their intention to run. To be clear, B4K has had no role with the Jersey City United ticket.”
Skinner’s remarks reference the fact that the filing deadline for all New Jersey municipal candidates running in the November 8 election, including BOE candidates, was July 25.
This previously mentioned email conversation between her, Schapiro and Akil took place a month before that.
She declined to comment on what other, if any, potential or current Jersey City BOE candidates B4K met with during this time.
When reached on his cell phone, Schapiro doubled down in saying Akil and Skinner had no role in the JCU campaign, though admitted Skinner was a friend whose advice he trusts.
“They have nothing to do with this campaign. We certainly had conversations in the past about local school district issues and I consider Shelley to be a smart and informed person for many years, even though we’ve had many differences,” he said, noting he’s known Skinner for 15 years.
Kristen Zadroga Hart, a spokeswoman for the Jersey City Education Association and the Education Matters team, still did not take the aforementioned email chain lightly.
“It is obvious from the email thread that Board of Education candidate Matthew Schapiro has an ongoing and close personal relationship with Muhammed Akil and Shelley Skinner, both of whom are known Charter School operatives, despite his denial on record,” she said in an email.
She called these relationships “worrisome” due to “the corporate takeover of public education in New Jersey,” calling Schapiro’s continued denial of having a working relationship with Akil “a character flaw that would follow [him] should he be elected to the school board.”
Better Education for New Jersey Kids, a New Brunswick-based super PAC that paid for a JCU mailer last month, also has ties to David Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund manager who has previously contributed to Jersey City BOE candidates.
Tepper is also a trustee on the Better Education for Kids, Inc. and Better Education Institute Inc. boards.
Several days after that story was published, Larry Rogers, the treasurer for B4K, said the Education Matters team represents “old time politics and destructive political infighting,” which is why they felt JCU is the better team during this election cycle.
“Better Education for New Jersey’s Kids believes that the Jersey City United slate is the best set of candidates to make sure that the school board represents and fights for the interests of parents and their children,” Rogers said in a statement.
“We believe other slates are aligned with political powers that bring their political interests to the school board. The other slates represent the old time politics and destructive political infighting that have failed too many Jersey City kids and their families.”
The Education Matters team has the support of Fulop, as well as the local teachers, police and firefighter unions, while JCU recently notched a key endorsement from a well-known local Muslim leader. Jersey City United candidate Asmaa Abdalla is also Muslim.
Akil, now the executive director of the Newark-based Parent Coalition for Excellent Education, said he would give us a call back last night but never did. He also did not return phone calls seeking comment on Thursday.
Editor’s Note: The word “potential” was highlighted in the below emails when Hudson County View received them.