If the Board of Education election was a referendum on the “Kids First” board majority and their backer Mayor Dawn Zimmer, the voters apparently approve of the job both are doing.
“Kids First,” the group of moms/“reformers” that has been slowly gaining a majority on the board for nearly five years, retained two board members and added two new ones on Tuesday night.
Now, that board majority will hold six votes on the nine-member board. They defeated a slate endorsed by board member Maureen Sullivan, who broke with “Kids First” earlier this year, saying their search for a new superintendent of schools was not transparent or inclusive enough.
Turnout for the election was 3,637 voters, 26 percent lower than last year’s 4,982 voters.
“For those that didn’t vote for me, I need to prove myself.” – Leon Gold
Thirteen candidates competed for four seats on the board – three three-year terms and one one-year seat left vacant by a resigning board member earlier this year.
Three terms of three years were filled by KF’s Irene Sobolov (1,626), Leon Gold (1,464) and current board President Rose Markle (1,322). But Markle was only 66 votes ahead of John Madigan, a former district employee who was let go by the board last year. Born-and-raised Hobokenites rallied behind Madigan, who ran as an independent without a slate of running mates. Madigan is deeply involved in Hoboken athletics, including Little League baseball.
The tallies above include machine votes and absentee ballots, but not provisional ballots. The county was counting 67 provisional ballots on Friday, although they were not likely to be enough to change the outcome of the race. Provisional ballots are cast by voters due to extenuating circumstances at the time of the election. For instance, since several voting machines were not functioning for part of Tuesday – two machines were allegedly down for two hours each – voters cast provisional ballots.
Republicans beaten back
Facing off against Kids First was an all-Republican slate called “Real Results.” School board and municipal elections are not partisan, with mostly Democrats opposing each other anyway. This year was different, perhaps because of the statewide climate of fiscal conservativism.
However, the “Real Results” ticket failed even to beat a separate slate who lost their leading candidate. The fifth and sixth place finishers in the race were Kyelia Colon (1,071) and Patricia Waiters (978) from the slate “Children Are Our Priority, Not Politics.” Their runningmate for the one-year term, Ken Howitt, pulled in 1,083 votes, coming close to KF’s Jean Marie Mitchell with 1,243. Former Board President Frank Raia had been heading their slate until he dropped out of the race because of a conflict of interest. He still lent financial support.
Pressure was put on Raia to include Madigan on his slate once he dropped out, but Raia objected. According to sources, the two men had a falling out in the past. On Tuesday night, several born-and-raised political insiders cursed Raia for not embracing Madigan, which they believe would have given him victory over Markle.
As for the Republicans in “Real Results,” their top candidate, Elizabeth Markovitch, pulled in 772 votes.
Celebrating their victory on Tuesday night, the KF members spoke about their election sweep.
Top vote-getter Irene Sobolov said it was an “incredible team effort,” and that the search for a new, permanent superintendent will begin immediately.
Although she only spent a few months on the board filling in for DeFalco after his resignation, Sobolov said she was proud that the voters confirmed the school budget. “I thought it was a great budget,” she said.
Gold, who is the first male member of KF, ran on a promise to represent the childless population in Hoboken.
He said one of his tenets on the board will be to reach out to the community for ideas, advice, and feedback. “I’m really thrilled,” he said.
“For those that didn’t vote for me, I need to prove myself,” Gold said.
Markle, the current board president, almost didn’t win re-election.
Her closest ally on the board, Theresa Minutillo, said, “I don’t know what it would be like for the next two years to sit on this board without ‘Ro’ Markle.”
KF board member Ruth McAllister said, “Most of the people in Hoboken, at least the ones who care enough to vote, like what we’re doing.”
Zimmer, who attended the election celebration, responded to criticism of those who claim the mayor shouldn’t take sides in the school elections.
Zimmer ruffled some feathers when she sent out an e-mail close to the election backing the KF slate and accusing the “Real Results” slate of planning to implement a “starve the schools” philosophy.
Some also critics pointed out that members of KF complained two years ago when then-Mayor David Roberts backed a school board slate.
“My approach is to take a position [on the election],” she said, “because I really believe in a strong public school system. Past mayors tried to involve themselves in the day-to-day operations of the campaign. I took a hands-off approach.”
Roberts is currently fighting a court battle because he allegedly vowed to pay for ads for the school board slate he backed two years ago, but allegedly never settled the bill.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.