In a letter to the editor, Hoboken Concerned Citizens Information Exchange Founder Matt Majer thanks everyone who helped raise awareness about today’s $241 million school referendum.
As the polls are now officially open, I wanted to take a moment to thank my friends and neighbors who joined me in this drive to awareness which culminates in today’s vote. No matter the outcome, I am proud of you.
And I want to continue our work, as collaboratively and transparently as possible with our neighbors and officials, with many of whom we have had extremely contentious debates.
Looking back, it was just a week or so before Christmas when I first learned most (enough?) details of this “secret” ballot.
Most of my neighbors had left town for the holidays, but the vast majority of those who remained knew absolutely nothing about a special referendum in just over a month to bond what would be by far our city’s largest municipal bond to fund the country’s most expensive public high school.
At a 2.2% interest rate, the taxpayers of this mile-square town would be asked to shoulder an additional school tax of $331,212,075 alone – a figure that represents a 28% school tax increase and an 8% total tax increase.
Even if I ran into someone who did know about the “new high school,” they more often than not had no idea they were going to be exclusively left holding the bag and the vote was not months but weeks away.
And they could only learn more by attending “information sessions,” – one-way propaganda pulpits in which residents weren’t allowed to speak publicly and all questions were required to be submitted beforehand.
Moreover, four of five of these sessions were in-person only, during the dead of winter and a pandemic, and a couple of them had already occurred. Something more had to be done.
I started a little “Concerned Citizens Information Exchange” group on December 22 and invited as many neighbors as possible to join me in helping to spread awareness.
We held weekly Zoom calls and organized into two working groups: Messaging and Engagement to focus on the facts as we came to learn them and to ensure they reached as many residents as possible, especially our low-income and elderly populations, the most vulnerable and most neglected.
We came from a variety of backgrounds and across the political spectrum, carrying many differing opinions and, yes, some stereotypical skepticism.
Our first weekly call had 10 or so participants, then 20, then 40, and before I knew it I was averaging nearly 100 text messages/hour as the urgency to get the referendum facts to as many residents as possible increased seemingly exponentially, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.
We ran into significant opposition and had to dispel advocates’ “addressing misinformation” by sticking to facts and learning to live with unanswered questions from those in the administration we thought were elected to represent us.
We became short with our neighbors – myself very much and ashamedly included – and I learned a new term: “campaign fatigue.” I apologize for my behavior.
Despite neither getting to knock on every door nor reaching a common ground – even agreeing to disagree – with certain proponents, I do think we made a big difference.
I am proud of our truly grassroots effort which brought individuals together with many talents: data and analytics, boots-on-ground canvassing, legal expertise, and even text messaging “at the speed of teenage.”
We were a self-funded team of teams from all points political: a “tripartisan” of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
So, team, no matter today’s outcome, know you made a difference. You increased awareness, fight voter suppression, and turned out the vote.
And I look forward to helping to keep this work going and including those who may openly oppose us. At the end of the day, I do think we all want what’s best for our students – current and future – and to restore a civil democracy.
After all, we are all next-door neighbors in this mile-square town.
Hoboken Concerned Citizens Information Exchange Founder