A former and future West New York Board of Education candidate has made allegations of voter fraud against a sitting trustee, prompting the governing body to begin litigation of the matter earlier this year.
During last night’s meeting of the West New York BOE, Trustee Matthew Cheng said he’s been stonewalled when requesting copies of the legal bills associated with the board’s litigation against Trustee Lorena Portillo.
“I don’t remember ever voting litigating against another board member. So, what action was taken that we are now litigating against a board member?,” Cheng questioned.
“Mr. Cheng, your motion and question is pertaining to pending litigation, pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act. My advice for this board would be to discuss your motion, and any questions related thereto, in closed executive session,” responded WNY BOE Counsel Lester Taylor.
When asked if the board even voted to approve the litigation, Taylor said he didn’t have any previous meeting minutes in front of him and Cheng should follow up with Schools Business Administrator Dean Austin at another time for the answer.
This answer didn’t appear to sit well with Cheng and led to a back and forth between the two officials, with the trustee claiming that other colleagues on the board had not been informed of the measure and the litigation was a waste of money during a time when school funds are necessary for more pressing matters such as Project Graduation.
Cheng made a motion to terminate the litigation, seconded by Trustee Ron Scheurle, but the motion failed 2-3(4), with only the aforementioned board members voting yes.
After the meeting concluded, Jose Alcantara, who missed being elected in November by only about a dozen votes and plans to run again this year, told Hudson County View that he filed county board of elections complaints against Portillo, as well as her significant other Alex Navas – another BOE hopeful.
“At the time that they filed the nominating petitions to run for the board of education, they weren’t living at their claimed residency,” stated Alcantara.
“As there was an investigation done by the county [board of] elections, and the judgement was that they no longer reside in their registered address and if they want to continue to vote in West New York they will have to show proof of it [residency].”
According to documents obtained by Hudson County View, Alcantara filed identical complaints against Portillo and Navas on January 3.
In a January 12 letter from Deputy Hudson County Superintendent of Elections John Brzozowski, he determined that both individuals have been placed on “inactive confirmation status,” pending further proof of residency.
The scenario led to a brief verbal confrontation between Portillo, Navas, Alcantara and Frank Ferreiro before the night was over.
Ferreiro had publicly advocated for Portillo to be removed or suspended from the board while the litigation is pending.
The argument largely centered around the legitimacy of the only two dueling slates in the campaign: Alcantara’s Children First team and Navas’ Save Our Schools ticket.
Alcantara also filed a complaint with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC) since a late election mailer that targeted him for old tweets about marijuana use did not have a “paid for” disclosure.
Portillo said that the topic was fair game since it was easily available through social media, as well as for the fact that a flier attacking Scheurle, who ran with Navas, also did not have a “paid for” disclosure.
Alcantara denied that the Children First team had anything to do with the written attack against Scheurle.
In a phone call today, Portillo admitted the campaign made some errors, but stood by the content of the late election season mailer.
“Being a new campaign, we probably made a couple of mistakes here and there, but we are trying to correct them. As for the content, this is not something we made up, it was well-documented in the media,” she added.
Portillo declined to comment on the voter fraud allegation given that is ongoing, but did say she had already submitted a response to the county board of elections.
As only Hudson County View has reported, the LLC of a daycare formally owned by Portillo is currently suing the Town of West New York for improper closure.
Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Michael Harper said he did not immediately have an update on the situation, while NJ ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle could not immediately be reached at his office on Thursday.