One thing is certain after Tuesday’s election in Hoboken: Barack Obama has been re-elected president. But when it comes to Hoboken local elections, the results are not cut and dried just yet.
Hoboken residents were able to vote on three public ballot questions as well as three open seats on the nine-member Board of Education. Seven candidates, divided into two opposing slates and one independent, have been campaigning for the vacant seats for weeks.
Tuesday night, the three Kids First candidates appeared to win all three seats on the school board. A proposal to eliminate rent control for many apartments was defeated, and voters approved moving municipal elections from May to November. Also, residents voted for runoff elections to be eliminated.
Despite the results that were tallied electronically late Tuesday night, the absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, leaving victors nervous and losers hopeful. Due to power outages and other problems caused by Hurricane Sandy, state residents were able to vote by e-mail through this past Friday.
In addition, as of two years ago, the state of New Jersey has begun allowing any voter to submit an absentee ballot by mail, without needing a specific reason to do so.
City officials said on Wednesday that they do not know how long it will take to tally all of the ballots.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer said Wednesday that this was the first time the city was processing votes this way, so the turnaround time is a mystery.
“At this point, we don’t know exactly what the results will be.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
The question with the highest likelihood of being overturned is public question no. 2, the rent control question. Tuesday night, it appeared to have been defeated in a 6,975 to 6,444 vote. The totals for the other questions were thousands of votes apart.
Kids First, the winners so far
The slate garnering the most votes for the Board of Education is Kids First, a group that already has a majority on the nine-member board. The Kids First ticket consists of incumbent Ruth McAllister, Jean Marie Mitchell (who previously sat on the Board from 2010-2011) and political newcomer Tom Kluepfel (a founder of the Elysian Charter School).
There is a 379-vote margin between the lowest vote-getter on Kids First and the highest vote-getter on the opposing slate, Move Forward.
The numbers from Tuesday were as follows: Ruth McAllister, 3,498; Tom Kluepfel, 3,426; Jean Marie Mitchell 3,223; Elizabeth Markevitch 2,844; Anthony Oland, 2,512; Felice Vazquez, 2,488, and Patricia Waiters, 987.
At a post-election celebration for Kids First on Tuesday night, attendees expressed trepidation over the victory.
McAllister and Mitchell seemed concerned about mail-in ballots and the history of uncertainty that has come with them.
Usually, the city’s long-time political organizations have undertaken concentrated efforts to harness hundreds of absentee ballots in advance in order to seal the deal with elections. While Hoboken is changing, these efforts have continued in recent elections.
Still, Kids First was very enthused about the results so far.
“It’s a grass roots effort that has paid off,” McAllister said. “Today we saw so many parents and children wearing the red t-shirts. It’s a great feeling when you’re running for the [Board of Education] and you see children wearing the shirts.”
Move Forward, the opposing ticket, consists of Elizabeth Markevitch, Anthony Oland, and Felice Vazquez. Move Forward candidate Liz Markevitch, who has attended board meetings for years, is only several hundred votes behind the lowest-voted member of Kids First.
Everyone in the race has kids in the public schools except Vazquez, who works for Kean University but has no children.
During the time that Kids First has held the 5-4 board majority, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mark Toback was hired.
Move Forward has said that Kids First has not made enough progress over the past few years. MF has criticized school test scores. KF, on the other hand, has said they have made progress in areas such as parental involvement, program implementation, supplies and textbooks for students, and new science labs.
Recent national press shed an unfavorable light on the Hoboken public schools and test scores, sparking major debate between the two slates. In addition, both groups have debated whether to share resources and extracurricular activities between Hoboken’s regular public schools and the charter schools. MF has encouraged more sharing of resources.
Independent Patricia Waiters, who has run three times before, has said that her biggest focus is to keep the politics out of the school board. She has criticized both slates.
Could rent control still go?
Public question no. 2 has elicited the most heat during this election. Leading up to the election, signs all over town told residents to vote “yes” or to vote “no” on the issue.
The question would allow property owners to remove any building in town from rent control once a current tenant moves out – temporarily in certain cases, permanently in others. For buildings with five or more units, the unit would go back under rent control once a new tenant moves in and pays a new rent.
Rent control laws keep annual rent increases to a certain percent, depending on the cost of living increases. There are provisions in place to help out both tenants and landlords, including a vacancy decontrol that lets landlords raise the rent 25 percent every three years when a tenant leaves. Landlords may also pass along certain charges.
The question of how to update rent control laws – which go back to 1973 – has been long debated in Hoboken by property owners and tenant activist groups. The Mile Square Taxpayers Association (MSTA) and the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) held a public forum recently to advocate for their sides.
The city and HFHA also fought the wording of the question in September, alleging that the verbiage would mislead voters.
Other questions not likely to change
There were two more local questions on the ballot, one which looks to eliminate runoff elections and the other to move mayor/council elections to November.
Question no. 1 on the ballot was approved 7,621 to 5,295 in favor of eliminating runoff elections. Municipal elections previously required that the winner receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If three candidates ran and each one accrued less than 50 percent, a runoff would be held between the top two vote-getters so that the winning candidate would likely amass a majority of the votes. Tuesday’s result is not likely to change.
Question no. 3 sought to move municipal elections from May to November. Proponents for the November date change felt that consolidating the election dates would not only save the city money, but also increase voter participation. The vote was overwhelming: 8,475 to 2,485.
The change applies to the election previously scheduled for May of 2013. The vote will give three council-at-large members and Mayor Dawn Zimmer an extra six months in office before they are up for re-election in November.
Now, they will be on the ballot along with Gov. Chris Christie, an ally of Zimmer. This may help Zimmer if Christie shares resources with her.
What it shows
In Hoboken, the school board election was always seen as a way to foretell the results of an upcoming mayoral election. Tuesday’s result is a good sign for Zimmer, who backed the Kids First candidates.
Some believe Zimmer has also benefitted from the fact that newer residents who are apathetic in local elections tend to still vote in November, and would likely pull the lever for a candidate like Zimmer, who is not a political old-timer.
When asked how she felt about the results of the election, Zimmer declined to comment at length, pending the final outcome. She said, “At this point, we don’t know exactly what the results will be. It’s a step in the right direction.”
No one knew as of press time whether the provisional and absentee ballots would change some of the closer results. Watch hudsonreporter.com for breaking news all week long.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.