The Jersey City Board of Education contest is quickly becoming one of the more brutal ones in recent memory, with a mailer over the weekend targeting developer Richard LeFrak, who is behind a super PAC involved in the race, for his ties to President Donald Trump (R).
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Trump Republican Richard LeFrak is spending big to take over [the] Jersey City school board,” the campaign literature, paid for by Garden State Forward – the New Jersey Education Association’s super PAC – says.
“Don’t let Richard LeFrak & ‘Change for Children’ take over our school board. Say no to Trump Republican Richard LeFrak’s Change for Children Team.”
The mailer cites two news reports: one from HCV that noted that Fairer NJ expects to spend $250,000 on the Jersey City BOE race and that the PAC is chaired by Jeremy Farrell, former Jersey City corporation counsel and the current senior director for the LeFrak Organization.
The other report mentioned is a December 2018 report from NBC News detailing how Trump, LeFrak and Kushner real estate developments could benefit from federal “opportunity zones.”
The TV station refers to LeFrak as a “friend” and “longtime associate of Trump.”
Fairer NJ political consultant Mark Matzen dismissed the mailer as a “smokescreen” to cover up the shortcomings of the current board.
“This is just a smoke screen to try to cover up the failed policies and corruption of Sudan Thomas and the Board. The facts that matter are the board has failed our kids by laying off teachers and staff, cutting after-school and sports programs and using fiscal gimmicks and shenanigans to cover up a looming budget crisis that could close schools and dramatically increase property taxes,” he said.
“Most tragically, they have put the health and safety of our children at risk by doing nothing to fix the lead leeching into our schools water. When you can’t defend what you do, Sudan and his handlers always revert to name-calling and diversion. That’s a bad example to set for our students.”
Thomas, the board president and part of the Jersey City Education Association-backed Education Matters team, pointed out that the LeFrak Organization is still in court over a lawsuit to halt the city’s payroll tax – a lone fact that should give voters an easy choice on November 5th.
“The choice and contrast before Jersey City is vivid and clear. On one side is the Education Matters team with a proven track record of fighting for full funding, education of the whole child, facilities planning and labor contract negotiations backed by the JCEA which is a co-defendant with the City of Jersey in the fight for the payroll tax,” he said.
“On the other side we have a team of five individuals who have never attended a school board meeting, funded by a LeFrak – a New York-based builder who is a known confidant of Trump, and are a fighting a law suit to prevent the payroll tax implementation with the goal of defunding the Jersey City public schools.”
Change for Children campaign manager Wendy Paul fired back that while Thomas is correct in that a cursory assessment of the two slates is clear, the reason being is that her team is comprised of “respected and ethical community leaders” with “extensive education experience.”
Meanwhile, she asserts that Thomas is “under criminal investigation” for his tenure as acting executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program.
While neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has not confirmed or denied that assertion, a former JCETP employee asked both law enforcement agencies to investigate Thomas for writing checks to cash prior to filing a whistleblower lawsuit against him.
Thomas responded by saying that his opposition is resorting to “lies and slander” out of desperation since they have failed to gain any traction to date.
Furthermore, Education Matters campaign manager Mike Greco accused the other side of “petty mudslinging,” adding that “it is typical of a Trump billionaire-funded slate of candidates to resort to name calling when they have nothing of substance to offer.”
It is not surprising that Trump is being used to try to hurt the credibility of local candidates in Jersey City, given that he was immensely unpopular there in the 2016 general election: garnering just roughly 14.2 percent of the vote.