Children First projected to win three school board slots

Losing slate fights back, citing complaint
The Children First West New York school board slate.
The Children First West New York school board slate.

Candidates on the Children First school board slate, which was backed by Mayor Felix Roque, were projected to win three open spots on the nine-member West New York Board of Education after Tuesday’s election results came in.
“Against all odds, having unfavorable numbers, we won against the opposition,” Roque said. “It shows the quality of these individuals. The team, volunteers, the people who came and helped us win this election. It was all about Children First.”
The slate featured current board Vice President Damarys Gonzalez and running mates Maite Fernandez and Jose Mendoza. With all of the 29 districts reporting on Tuesday night, Gonzalez received 1,897 votes, Fernandez received 1,952 votes, and Mendoza received 1,873 votes.
“Our volunteers showed up; they were great,” said board trustee and the mayor’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Castaneda. “I’m looking forward to working with members of the Board of Education … to handle a $130 million dollar budget, to handle a school system with 10,000 students, and to handle the future of our town and our state.”
Their opponents, the rival Save Our Schools slate, received the following vote numbers: Melinda Saunders, 1,423, Nicholas Behncke, 1,360; and Alex Navas, 1,313.
The group noted during the middle of last week that some vote-by-mail ballots still had yet to be counted.
By Thursday, Board of Elections Clerk Michael Harper said that all but provisional votes had been tallied. The small number of provisional votes is unlikely to affect the outcome.

“It was the first time that we had a grassroots campaign.” – Jonathan Castaneda


Reactions from both sides

Earlier in the week, Navas’s slate spoke to the press about a complaint they’d made to the county Board of Elections about possible voter fraud in the race, centering on 100-200 absentee ballots that came from two buildings at 5001 and 5101 Park Ave.
On Monday, Harper confirmed to the Reporter they had sent investigators to the buildings to determine if there are grounds for a complaint.
Large political machines often try to shore up their victory in advance by having their workers go to various buildings (especially senior housing) to get voters to fill out these ballots. Sometimes, questions arise about how heavy-handed the workers are in urging residents to vote that way.
Castaneda said last week that the rival slate’s inquiry “was an 11th hour Hail Mary. We won. If we had to cheat to win, we wouldn’t have won today.”

Hannington Dia can be reached at