Ballot finalized in crowded Bayonne school board race

Nov. 5 election will be another highly-charged contest

Check out who's on this year's ballot in the 2019 Board of Education election.
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Check out who's on this year's ballot in the 2019 Board of Education election.

The deadline to submit petitions for ballot nominations in Bayonne’s 2019 Board of Education elections passed on July 29. Just like last year’s election, this year’s ballot will be very crowded. Fifteen candidates are vying for three seats on the board, each of which is a three-year term.

The challenges the board faces aren’t unique compared to those that school boards across the country face. Whether it’s budgeting for improvements to facilities, expanding faculty, introducing new academic programs, or financing teachers’ salaries, contenders will have much to say about what they hope to do as trustees.

2018 saw even more candidates, with 20 people vying for four trustee seats.

The three seats up for grabs on Nov. 5 this year are currently occupied by Trustees Carol Cruden, Charles Ryan, and Denis Wilbeck, who currently serves as the board’s vice president. The three will be running an incumbent campaign together under the “Commitment, Experience, Integrity” ticket.

Ryan lost his seat in the November 2018 election, but was reappointed to his position by the board in January to fill a vacancy. Then-trustee Michael Mulcahy vacated his  post to take a new job in Monmouth County. Ryan’s reappointment was met with some controversy among trustees who were divided, both by politics and the fact that Ryan was so recently voted off the board.

Alonso allies back in the fray

The only other three-person ticket running in this year’s election is composed of Charles Shephard, Evelyn Sabol, and Lauren Alonso, who will be running under the “Make Bayonne Great” ticket. Lauren Alonso is married to sitting Trustee Michael Alonso.

Michael Alonso, who had been a perennial but largely noncompetitive contender in several prior elections, won a seat on the board in 2017 with the second greatest number of votes. Alonso won under the “Make Bayonne Great Again” banner. His win was largely considered an upset victory compared to his past attempts.

Shepard, Sabol, and Lauren Alonso would make up a strong faction of the nine-member board likely to work in an alliance with Michael Alonso.

Last month, the board had to select a schools superintendent because Interim Superintendent Michael A. Wanko’s contract had expired. Four of the trustees were unable to vote due to conflicts of interest. The remaining five trustees who were eligible to vote on hiring a new superintendent had to reach a unanimous decision.

During this process, local attention focused on Michael Alonso. The decision of who would take up the post of superintendent of schools sputtered over several heated months, largely because Michael Alonso rejected all the suggested candidates brought before the board.

The board held a special meeting on June 10, with hopes of naming a new superintendent before Wanko’s contract expired.

They were successful in avoiding the tumult that a non-decision would have created. From a pool of candidates sent to the board by the NJ Association of School Administrators, the trustees qualified to vote reached a consensus on hiring John J. Neisz as superintendent of schools for the 2019-2020 year.

Lone wolves

Six of the candidates make up two full electoral slates this year, while the remaining nine are all running solo.

Leo Smith, Jr. is back on the ballot this year. He lost in 2018 by a razor-thin margin of 19 votes. Despite a recount, the Hudson County Clerk’s Office maintained that he lost by that exact margin.

Jan Egan, who ran in 2018, is once again vying for a spot in November. Hector Gonzalez and Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez are back in the fray after losing last year’s election.

Anthony D’Amico will be running again this year. He last campaigned for a trustee seat in 2017.

Sharma Montgomery is another familiar name on the ballot. She’s run unsuccessfully in three prior races.

Melissa Matthews, Lisa Burke, and Stephanie Wilson are newcomers on the ballot.

Spectators and voters can safely anticipate a battle royal for the three open positions leading up to the Nov. 5 election.

Eyes on the First Ward council seat

Voters will have more than just Board of Education trustees to elect on Nov. 5.

A special election will be held to fill the unexpired term of the First Ward council member. The deadline for filing petitions for this spot is Sept. 3, so it’s still unclear what’s on the horizon in terms of competition.

Incumbent Councilman Neil Carroll was appointed by Bayonne officials to fill the position in November 2018, after then-First Ward Councilman Tommy Cotter left his post to take the helm as director of the city’s Department of Public Works. At age 27, he is the youngest Bayonne council member in the city’s history. Neil Carroll’s grandfather, also named Neil Carroll, was a well-known Hudson County freeholder.

Mayor Jimmy Davis has announced that Carroll has his endorsement. After 17 people applied to fill the First Ward council position in 2018, it seems likely that Carroll will have some challengers leading up to Nov. 5.

So far, we know that electoral hopeful John R. Cupo will be vying for the First Ward Council seat. He called The Hudson Reporter on Aug. 8, to let us know that he’s in the ring this year and has submitted 1,300 petitions for ballot nomination so far, which is enough to get on this year’s ballot.

Cupo, who’s spent his 46-year career in real estate, is a familiar face in Bayonne’s elections. He ran for a First Ward council seat in 2010, and also ran for the at-large seat in 2010.

He also applied to fill the 2018 vacancy of the First Ward council seat, to which Councilman Neil Carroll was appointed.

Cupo also put his hat in the ring in three Board of Education elections. During his unsuccessful bids for Board of Education seats, he voiced concern that the school board was mismanaging funds.

Cupo said that his platform is largely one of support for Mayor Jimmy Davis.

“I’m an unwaivering supporter of Mayor Davis,” Cupo said. “I supported him in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and this year. I’m one of his biggest supporters.”

The Hudson Reporter will provide coverage of all candidates vying for the council seat once they are announced, after the Sept. 3 deadline to submit petitions passes.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.