With 13 candidates set to slug it out over three seats on the Jersey City Board of Education this fall, expect a bloody, political war that was uncharacteristically absent in 2015.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
For a quick recap, recall that retired NJ Transit cop John Reichart was the only new member to join the board last year, where BOE Vice President Marilyn Romano and BOE President Vidya Gangadin expectedly getting re-elected.
Former board President Sangeeta Ranade decided not to run again and perennial underdog and education advocate Gina Verdibello came up short again against the Jersey City Education Association/Mayor Steven Fulop-endorsed slate, though she had her strongest showing to date with 5,277.
All in all, the race was pretty much a snoozefest leading up to Election Day, which ended up producing the results the vast majority of onlookers were expecting.
However, this time around, expect a contest that more closely resembles 2014, where the JCEA-backed ticket trounced an incarnation of the Parents for Progress team, touted as the Parents for Excellence.
Some from the P4P side of things blamed the let down on Fulop, but more on that later.
With a whopping 13 candidates putting their name on the upcoming November 8 ballot, it seems inevitable that the JCEA will face off with P4P again.
Recall that in 2013, the P4P’s “Candidates for Excellence” team of Jessica Daye, Micheline Amy and Ellen Simon cruised to victory – none of whom are seeking re-election in 2016.
This time around, Matt Schapiro, a behind the scenes game manager for P4P – allies of Superintendent of Schools Marcia Lyles – for years, has formally entered the fray.
His name just came into the spotlight over an ethics complaint filed against BOE Trustee Lorenzo Richardson, who scored 12,407 votes and had the JCEA’s blessing in 2014, over the ongoing controversy surrounding Lyles’ contract renewal.
The complaint, filed with the state Department of Education on June 17 can be summed up in a few words: Schapiro says Richardson took “unilateral private action” by appealing the fashion in which Lyles received another four-year deal with the district – which essentially came by default.
In case you missed it, Lyles received the contract in the late evening hours of the December 17 meeting of the Jersey City BOE, where Richardson and his anti-Lyles ally Gerald Lyons were absent.
Conflicts of interest prevented other board members from voting, so given that five votes were not possible one way or the other, her contract was automatically renewed.
In his complaint, Richardson said work obligations prevented him from attending on December 17 and that the matter had not been previously discussed with the board.
Couple with the fact that Lyles did not receive five affirmative votes, he felt a special meeting to vote on her contract before March 1 was appropriate.
Schapiro, in his complaint, counters that everything was done by the book and Richardson overstepped his boundaries as a trustee by filing an action that did not reflect the feelings of the board as a whole.
Long story short, it’s incredibly unlikely the state DOE is actually going to take an action on either matter before November 8. Even if there is a sanction in either case, it’s nearly guaranteed it will be inconsequential and quickly forgotten.
But it does make a good narrative for what is promising to be a fiery fight.
Also worth mentioning is that Verdibello is an ally of Richardson, Lyons and Joel Torres: she actually ran with Lyons and Richardson in 2014, but the JCEA decided to throw a curveball in the 11th hour.
It remains to be seen if Verdibello and the JCEA can work together, but with 10 candidates that have never sought a spot on the board before, anything is possible.
The JCEA vs. the P4P is a fun dynamic in it of itself, but this election cycle could get particularly volatile if a third slate ends up being run by Muhammed Akil.
That’s right, that Muhammed Akil.
Despite eventually being ousted from Jersey City City Hall after some old hate speech from decades ago emerged, Akil improbably landed on feet to become the executive director of the Newark-based Parent Coalition for Excellent Education.
According to their website, “The Parent Coalition for Excellent Education’s (PC2E) mission is to empower, mobilize and strengthen the voice of every New Jersey parent and advocate for education policies that meet the demands and expectations of every community we serve in the State.”
Frankly, I can’t say I’ve ever had an interaction with Akil, but everyone I know who has says he really hates to lose and plays for keeps.
Rumor has it that he’s already met with Ward F power broker Eugene McKnight and Dejon Morris, an aide to Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31, whose related to Eugene via marriage), about getting a team together.
Morris ran for the BOE in 2013 and was a ways off from getting elected. He also initially sought the Democratic nomination for the state Assembly seat in District 31 last year, but eventually dropped out to support McKnight and her running mate, Nick Chiaravalloti – the eventual winners.
Should this ticket become a reality, Dominique Lee could be a logical addition, given that he is the CEO of Newark’s BRICK Academy schools – it would stand to reason he and Akil already have some sort of relationship.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good one.
Furthermore, this BOE election is going to be very interesting in light of state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), an all but declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate, asking for both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the NJEA.
Sweeney believes that the NJEA is trying to bully, extort, coerce, etc. elected officials into putting a pension referendum question onto the November 8 ballot, given that the powerful teachers union says they will otherwise be withholding political contributions.
One of the top Democratic leaders in the state, Sweeney says he’d be happy to put the question on the ballot … as long as a solution to the Transportation Trust Fund crisis is on the table.
That’s not happening any time soon, so looks like public workers are going to be left to suffer, barring a totally unforeseen turn of events on Monday.
What does this have to do with the Jersey City BOE race?
This is a perfect opportunity for Fulop to cozy up with the JCEA, and to a lesser extent the NJEA, and propel that three-person team, whoever it may be comprised of, to victory.
The Jersey City mayor took a moment to address the pension question on Wednesday via Twitter, writing “On funding pension question. A commitment is a commitment. ballot question should be put for vote+let public decide. Period.”
The NJEA, the state’s largest teachers union, will more than likely back Fulop or former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy in next year’s Democratic gubernatorial contest.
While it’s still pretty early, the November 8 BOE election on Fulop’s home turf currently looks like prime time for him to make a statement, will he really pass that up?
On a final related note, in light of the rumors of an Akil team coming to town, the JCEA has already reached out to a high stakes political operative of their own to even the playing field. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out who it is, for now.
Last year was an anomaly, this year, onlookers of the Jersey City BOE should get their popcorn ready and enjoy the show. At times it will probably be rated R, so viewer discretion is advised.