Jersey City breaks state record for BOE race spending, cracks top 3 for Airbnb referendum


Jersey City has broken state records for the amount of money spent on a referendum question and a board of education race, respectively, last month, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

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By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The Airbnb ballot question, which asked residents if they agreed with placing more regulations on short-term rentals in Jersey City, passed overwhelming by a margin of about 69 percent to 31 percent.

It didn’t come easily though: as both sides combined for $5,686,805 raised and $5,498,575 spent, ELEC said today. Airbnb by far contributed the most money, doling out a whopping $4,283,495 to the “Keep Our Homes” campaign that opposed the ballot question.

“When a local ballot election costs more than most previous statewide ballot questions, people notice,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said in a statement.

With inflation, that makes it the third highest ballot question of all time: behind a 1976 Atlantic City casino referendum where about $6.1 million was spent, and the 2016 North Jersey casino referendum with an astonishing $24.6 million going towards the cause.

Days before the November 5th election, HCV noted that at least $5.2 million had been raised for the effort.

Meanwhile, the Jersey City BOE race reported $704,885 raised and $590,019 spent, crushing previous tallies spent in Elizabeth back in 2014 ($261,215 raised, $458,951 spent).

Fairer NJ, the Lefrak-based super PAC supporting the “Change for Children” ticket raised $465,000 and used $312,036 on the race. Meanwhile, the five-person slate amassed $239,885 for this election and spent the majority of it: $223,556, ELEC notes.

Funding for the “Education Matters” team, the five candidates backed by the Jersey City Education Association, is less clear, as they reported nothing raised to date.

However, the New Jersey Education Association PAC, Garden State Forward, and Jersey City Make it Better, reported spending $30,000, $18,296, and $6,131, a piece on the race.

Garden State Forward can raise unlimited funds and support candidates, but must spend its money independently of candidates, according to ELEC rules and regulations.

Furthermore, they reported spending $504,202 on all New Jersey elections in 2019.

The group endorsed state legislative candidates, county candidates and local candidates,
which includes school board candidates.

Neisha Louhar was the only independent candidate who reported any fundraising, with just $500 to date, according to ELEC.

Ultimately, Jersey City voters selected a split ticket, electing Trustees Gerald Lyons, Gina Verdibello, and LeKendrick Shaw, with Noemi Velazquez and Alexander Hamilton joining them.

In a statement, Board President Sudhan Thomas, one of the losing members of the Education Matter slate, cautioned voters about what these spending trends may mean for future elections.

“The SCOUTUS decision on Citizens United has essentially placed our Democracy for sale. It is particularly disturbing to see organizations like Lefrak, who have hitherto shown no interest in our public schools suddenly investing $600,000 in the Jersey City school board elections while an independent candidate spends $500 and received about 25 percent of the votes: [that] speaks volumes.”

LeFrak Organization Senior Director Jeremy Farrell responded that investments into the schools are investments into home values.

“Education is not only an investment in our children and in our futures, it’s literally a investment in our home values. As the schools do better so do our homes,” he said.

“They are more desirable, more sellable and it’s also an investment in our community because it makes them a better place to live.”

HCV detailed the Jersey City BOE spending throughout this previous election cycle.


Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.

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