Hoboken school board votes 4-3 against resignation of board member after she sends offensive text

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HOBOKEN — During the Hoboken Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night, April 11, board member John Madigan called for the resignation of fellow board member Irene Sobolov, to no avail.
Madigan added a last-minute resolution to the agenda due to what he characterized as a “vile” and offensive text message that he and the other board members received from Sobolov in which she forwarded a photo of Councilman Michael DeFusco standing next to one of his political supporters. In the text, she referred to them as “butt buddies.”
Sobolov accidentally sent the message to all of the school board members and the superintendent of schools, instead of the friend she meant to send it to.
DeFusco is rumored to be preparing to run against Mayor Dawn Zimmer, an ally of Sobolov, in the November mayoral election. Since DeFusco had recently been allied with Zimmer, this has raised the hackles of some in her camp. Zimmer has been in office since 2009, when she ran for the spot during her first term as a councilperson.
Some said that the “butt buddies” slang — which is commonly used to mean extremely close friends — was especially offensive because DeFusco is the city’s first openly gay councilman, and it could be taken as a gay slur.
While the term’s connotation is often negative, it is not generally meant against a particular group.
Since news of the text message broke, Sobolov has apologized to DeFusco and members of the public.
“The text message was intended for a conversation I was having with two girlfriends, musing on the interesting and often changing political landscape in Hoboken,” said Sobolov. “A term was used that I always understood to mean ‘good friends,’ or in this particular case, interesting political friends. Of course I was embarrassed when I realized my mistake and mortified when I learned that Mr. Madigan interpreted the text to mean homophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth…I truly regret the situation and sincerely apologize to anyone impacted.”
The resolution was seconded by trustee Peter Biancamano before members of the public spoke on the resolution and the council cast their vote.
Roughly 15 residents spoke regarding the matter. Most of those supported Irene Sobolov, citing her dedication to the district and personal knowledge of her character as inclusive and not mean spirited.
Two residents spoke who agreed with Madigan that she should resign.
According to Board Attorney Vito Gagliardi, the resolution would not “compel an action,” or force Sobolov to resign, as “a Board of Education does not have statutory authority to ask a sitting board member to resign.”
The Board of Education held a vote on the resolution anyway. Members Britney Montgomery, Biancamano, and Madigan voted for her resignation while Trustees Sheillah Dallara, Jennifer Evans, Sharyn Angley, and Thomas Kluepfel voted for her to remain on the board with Sobolov abstaining.
Trustee Mark McNamara was absent.
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