OPINION: Final thoughts on the 2014 Jersey City Board of Education Election


The Hudson County View’s Michael Shurin analyzes the 2014 Jersey City Board of Education election and some of the political implications moving forward.

JCEA Ronnie Greco - Joel Torres - Gerald Lyons - Lorenzo Richardson

I must start by admitting my prediction about the election was completely off. Although I correctly picked Lorenzo Richardson and Gerald Lyons, I certainly wasn’t predicting a blowout led by the teachers union.

The JCEA, losers in recent elections, propelled Richardson and Lyons, as well as Joel Torres who placed 2nd overall, to a historic win reminiscent of the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos last season in the Meadowlands.

Basic Analysis

Thanks to the NJEA, the JCEA is back from the dead

The once powerful JCEA, representing staff in New Jersey’s second largest school district, had taken a political beating in recent years.

The tables turned on Election Day.

With political engineering going on in the back rooms, there’s a legitimate possibility that the union has Jersey City BOE President Sangeeta Ranade replaced in 2015 for someone more favorable to their agenda.

None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the NJEA, and their multi-million dollar Super PAC – Garden State Forward.

Through an effective social media and direct messaging campaign, Garden State Forward did an excellent job defining the union-backed Education Matters ticket and steering voters to their candidates.

That’s not to take away from the street game of the JCEA rank-and-file, but numbers like that are more than just hard work and miracles.

While the campaign accounts of Richardson, Lyons, and Torres are quite small, the amount spent by outside sources to elect them could very well have been in the hundreds of thousands.

Education reformers lost the battle in Jersey City, but won the war nationwide.

Before anyone attacks me for defining candidates as part of the education reform movement in America, look no further than Parents 4 Excellence contributors Alan Fournier and Stacy Schusterman.

Although I don’t know exactly what was spent by outside groups to support P4E or JCEA candidates, I would guess the teachers union spent considerably more resources on the race.

That said, the war isn’t over in Jersey City. For the JCEA to truly win and regain its power, Jersey City Schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles must be replaced.

The fate of the teachers contract and Dr. Lyles are now intertwined. The longer the teachers don’t have a new deal, the less likely Dr. Lyles is brought back when her contract is up.

Education reformers can win a battle of substance, and mostly have until this past election, but won’t win a class war in Jersey City against the teachers union.

Moving forward though, things don’t look bright for the teachers union. As The Washington Post noted, the union spent $60 million nationally on this election cycle and lost badly.

Big Republican gains, including taking the majority in the United States Senate, and President Obama’s support of education reform might equal changes in federal policy that will affect Jersey City more so than the BOE election.

Long-term impact

2015 Jersey City Board of Education Election and Dr. Lyles’ future in Jersey City

Barring a peace deal between the JCEA and Parents 4 Progress, which is only slightly more likely than peace in the Middle East these days, the holy battle for the Jersey City BOE will be next year.

If the union can get another full slate on the board, the future of Dr. Lyles in Jersey City will certainly be put in jeopardy.

Super PACs and independent expenditures in local Jersey City elections are here to stay

Just like David Tepper helped push Mayor Fulop and candidates he supported for BOE across the finish line with help from B4KNJ’s PAC, the teachers union got their candidates across with Garden State Forward.

Expect the 2015 race to attract big outside dollars from both sides of the education debate for what should be a much closer and brutal race.

Jersey City BOE meetings will be broadcasting the public speaking portion again

Talk about a self-inflicted wound, the change in board policy definitely came back to haunt the Parents 4 Excellence team.

If perception is everything in politics, the change in policy regarding video recording of public speakers made the board look like they had something to hide.

Not to mention, many voters who are unable to attend meetings watch JC1TV to catch up on issues. I can’t imagine they were happy that the most exciting part of the meeting wasn’t being broadcast.

LD-31 Democratic Primary for NJ Assembly

If the union is going to keep the momentum moving forward they have to win this district. They did well in Ward A, B, and F, and helped propel Jimmy Davis to Mayor in Bayonne, so an NJEA endorsement should carry major weight in the election.

Bruce Alston, the only declared candidate, has made his support of the teachers union vocal but that might not be enough for an endorsement.

Rumors are swirling that former Jersey City Councilwoman Viola Richardson wants to add her name to the race. Given the strong turnout in Ward A and F for her nephew Lorenzo, she might be a more ideal candidate for the union off the HCDO line.

Don’t sleep on Carol Harrison-Arnold either, even after a brutal defeat. Education reform is a bigger issue on the statewide level and she’s the best candidate they’ll be able to run in the district. I wouldn’t underestimate her with a broader platform to run on, while appealing more to Bayonne voters.

Sources say Nicholas Chiaravalloti, a strong ally of Sen. Menendez, will be getting the HCDO line as the Bayonne candidate. So to say things aren’t looking so bright for Assemblymen Charles Mainor and Jason O’Donnell these days is an understatement.

Mainor may still get the line, but if he does it will probably be in spite of the teachers union and more about state Sen. Sandra Cunningham flexing her political muscle.

BIZARRE RUMOR: Former Fulop Chief of Staff Muhammed Akil is contemplating a run for the assembly based on an agenda for black and minority communities. Hudson County View hopes to be the first to interview Akil if he chooses to run, and is open to interviewing him at any time should the Fulop Administration give him permission to speak with us.

Fulop for Governor is now more likely than Mayor Fulop being reelected

Fulop, who was celebrating big wins for the Democratic Party in Bergen County on Election Night, got a big boost in his quest for Drumthwacket.

His discreet backing of the JCEA ticket through the Jersey City Democratic Organization, and visible support of Bergen County Executive-elect Jim Tedesco, means Fulop is better positioned for the 2017 Democratic Primary for Governor than before the election.

He also converted plenty of former downtown stalwarts into enemies during this BOE election.

As one person from Parents 4 Excellence told me prior to the election “Win or lose, we are done with Fulop and there’s no going back.”

Fulop got into the Mayor’s office by essentially going 50-50 with former Mayor Healy in all the Wards outside of E, and then winning big in E by turning out his base.

Most of that base was built through the education reform movement, and Fulop might not know this yet, but he’s not so popular outside downtown these days for things like “Garbage for Greenville,” the EMS contract, and the proposed MLK Annex, regardless if he backed away from his own proposals.

Finally, even though he’s positioning himself to be the NJEA candidate in 2017, will union rank-and-file really trust a guy who fought for “a resolution demanding equitable funding for Jersey City’s underfunded charter schools?”

Fulop Charter School Appreciation

Suggestions moving forward (assuming a peace deal cannot be brokered)

Lorenzo Richardson better be on his best behavior

Just because he emerged victorious on election night doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be the boogeyman of education reformers. The scrutiny will be that much more intense.

Education reformers need to get the teachers a contract or risk all the progress made under Dr. Lyles’ tenure

Like I said before, the reformers can win a battle of substance, but will lose a class war every time.

Remove the teachers contract from the equation, make the 2015 election about Dr. Lyles, and put together a ticket with two known community leaders next to Monica Kress and they’ll have a fighting chance.

Make Dr. Lyles more visible in the community and force the JCEA to offer an alternative option during an election season.

Whether Kress can handle another brutal election cycle, and it really got personal with her, remains to be seen, but she was certainly their best candidate, and maybe the best overall.

JCEA better not fall asleep at the wheel

The union can stop celebrating right about now. To be successful in 2015, and take back power in the district, they can’t let their foot off the pedal.

They should start screening candidates for 2015 now, with a continued focus on recruiting community activists.

Remember, the teachers union was in political purgatory the last few years. They could go right back with a couple of poor missteps.

Going forward they should take the debate to Ward E, where they might find strong support from liberals disenchanted with education reformers.

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