OPINION: A few thoughts on the 2014 West New York Board of Education race

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After reading Michael Shurin’s detailed breakdown of the 2014 Jersey City Board of Education race, Hudson County View’s John Heinis now picks apart the BOE race in West New York.

West New York BOE

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

As with all things West New York these days, the board of education election has turned into a political melee where nothing is certain, other than to expect the unexpected.

Why would it be any other way when the election takes place in the midst of FBI and state Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) investigations?

For starters, let’s clarify that this election is for four seats on the nine-person board: board president Steven Rodas and trustee Adam Parkinson – both board appointments – are seeking re-election, while trustees Angela Duval and Nasrin (Rita) Alam are not.

A whopping 16 candidates will vie for one two-year term, as well as three three-year terms on the board.

Children First

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Rodas and Parkinson are running on the Children First ticket along with Damarys Gonzalez and Dennise Mejia.

While this four-person slate hasn’t been formally endorsed by Mayor Felix Roque, their campaign manager is town spokesman Pablo Fonseca, one of their mailers used a photograph taken in Dr. Roque’s medical office and their flyers are plastered all over Roque’s “Together We Can” headquarters.

Neutral West New Yorkers say that the Children First brigade has been hitting the pavement longer and harder than anyone else in this election, treating any calls, text messages or e-mails from the media as distractions.

Although anti-Roque advocates swear this means they have something to hide, members of this camp maintain that the primary, and only, focus is getting the vote out tomorrow.

As Hudson County View reported Rodas and Parkinson were hit with a 117-page ethics complaint by fellow candidate Patrick Cullen – essentially claiming that Roque and intermediaries close to the mayor told the two how to vote on BOE matters.

Fonseca dismissed the complaint as nothing more than typical election season politics, and even if the complaint was 100 percent true, anyone who knows anything about New Jersey ethics commissions knows filing complaints are a dead end.

Rodas had also come under fire for allegedly not living in West New York, and then subsequently getting hit with building violations at a WNY address in September.

This storyline certainly has some intrigue to it, but the opposition let this issue die out and given that the average WNY voter doesn’t watch/read Hudson County View or go to BOE meetings, this issue will be a non-factor at the polls.

Kids First

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Moving onto the Kids First team, Cullen’s ticket of choice, which also comprises of Myrli Sanchez and Dr. Marie Volpe, have taken the stance of removing politics from the school board completely.

A nifty idea on the surface, naysayers point to the fact that Myrli Sanchez’s husband, Pastor Ralph Sanchez, is running for commissioner on Count Wiley’s May 2015 ticket, as well as the fact that Cullen has been an unabashed Wiley supporter for quite some time now.

Still, Wiley is telling anyone who will listen that he’s sitting out of this race as he focuses on unseating Roque in May. Wiley unsuccessfully backed two candidates in the January 28 special BOE election and apparently decided it wasn’t worth dealing with the headaches associated with another one.

Kids First has also drawn the ire of other candidates by getting help behind the scenes from trustee Matthew Cheng and Freeholder Chairman Jose Munoz, the reason being that members of other slates were allegedly told neither individual would be getting involved in this election.

M.A.T.H. Team

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The final slate in this election is the M.A.T.H. team, mayoral hopeful Carlos Betancourt’s team of choice.

M.A.T.H. stands for Monica Parra, Ana Cerqueira, Thomas Leung and Henry Song and quickly emerged as the most controversial contingent in this one.

Advocating for a charter school on the waterfront, later saying that any type of new school in West New York is a necessity, the team has received harsh criticism from some teachers and longtime residents who say this type of thinking creates a class divide in town.

Add that to the fact that Superintendent of Schools John Fauta has said it would be a conflict for BOE members to support a charter school initiative (also in the first link) and things were guaranteed to get more than a little hairy.

Despite all being new to the political trenches, aside from Cerqueira, the M.A.T.H. contingent has also been throwing some heavy leather at the Children First team.

Through a campaign spokesman, the team has called for Rodas and Parkinson to resign, indicating that they stacked the votes on the now infamous Alamo Insurance contract and therefore triggered the FBI and OFAC probes.

Resignations, let alone a response, are obviously not forthcoming, but this is just one prime example of why some Hudson County politicos believe that this election is Roque vs. Betancourt, part 1.

In the event the Betancourt-endorsed candidates capture three seats, or even pull off an unthinkable sweep, many believe Roque is just keeping the mayor’s chair warm for the retired police detective at that point.

Of course, that’s a very big if.

Independent Candidates 

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With the three slates down, that still leaves five more candidates vying for a seat.

While Cesar Aguirre, Lorraine “Dee Dee” Morrell, Isabel Henao, Juan Carlos Alvarado and Joel Campos-Alvis still have their names on the ballot, Morrell, Henao and Alvarado have done very little to get a serious campaign going and Aguirre has told friends he “isn’t really” running to focus on work and school.

He has also been seen campaigning for the Children First team, so obviously he has no intention of sitting on the board – at least this time around.

The only independent candidate with a chance to win here is Campos-Alvis, who gave a scathing interview to Hudson County View last month stating that he’s the only real independent candidate in this election since everyone running on a ticket has a political agenda.

Along with Volpe, a longtime educator, Campos-Alvis’ masters degrees in from Carnegie Mellon University and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) puts him in the class of most qualified candidates.

But will that matter on election day?

Analysis/Prediction

The lone two-year seat up for grabs is essentially a grudge match between Cerqueira and Parksinson. Cerqueira is the most seasoned political veteran of the three, running for committeewoman and the board of education in the past year alone (winning the committee seat, losing the BOE race).

Parkinson has the benefit of being an incumbent that has the support of the West New York Democratic Committee, which to a lesser extent, means the Hudson County Democratic Committee.

While the HCDO elite aren’t going to waste their time on a BOE race, former WNY Mayor Sal Vega – who was hired to be the new High Tech High School Director of Transportation in time for the new school year – his old Chief of Staff Daniel Ortega and ex-WNY BOE President Cosmo Cirillo have all promoted Children First.

The rumor mill, which seems to churn tirelessly in good ole’ WNY, says Vega was given a county job in exchange for Cirillo – another former main archnemesis of Roque who is now Assemblyman Vincent Prieto’s Cheif of Staff – to run with the incumbent’s 2015 ticket

I say Cerqueira manages to squeak this one out, with the fellow old members of the Vega brigade complimenting the votes she gets out of the waterfront.

The three-year seats are even more hotly contested, but I think Rodas will retain his seat. Young, politically savvy and possessing a strong presence around town, he will be able to take full advantage of the Democratic support he’s been given – to the chagrin of anti-Roque factions everywhere.

Furthermore, Sanchez will likely be able to capitalize on also being a fairly well-known commodity in town, with the votes from her husband’s church congregation giving her the extra boost she needs to win.

Finally, Joel Campos-Alvis will take the final seat in another narrow victory, as voters recognize his credentials and street presence.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Clearly the Children First Team was going to win, and they did. I’m puzzled why you would have thought otherwise?

  2. I just didn’t think a sweep from any team was possible with 16 candidates looking to fill just four seats.

  3. Those 4 candidates were backed by the HCDO, Sires, and Booker. Of course they were going to win. To believe otherwise was to buy into the BS being spread by the likes of Wiley.

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