Jersey City was home to the most costly school board race and third most expensive ballot question in the state, according to a recent report by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
This past November, Jersey City residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of more restrictions on short term rentals, like those posted on Airbnb, and came out in droves to elect five board of education members to represent the school district from a crowded field of 15 candidates.
According to the preliminary figures, the school board election cost an estimated $600,000, and the ballot question, ultimately approving more restrictions on Airbnb’s, cost $5.5 million which both set new state records.
Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director, said the amount of spending on the local issue stole attention from the statewide election for 80 Assembly seats.
“When a local ballot election costs more than most previous statewide ballot questions, people notice,” Brindle said.
Ballot blow out
Based on inflation-adjusted dollars, the Jersey City election is now the third-largest ballot question in state history, ranking behind an unsuccessful 2016 referendum to locate casinos in northern New Jersey and a 1976 ballot question that allowed casinos in Atlantic City.
The $5.5 million price tag on the ballot is five times larger than the prior top municipal ballot question in 2010 and this total is only preliminary as the largest spender, Keep Our Homes, the organization against the restrictions, has not submitted its final ELEC report.
During the 2010 referendum, voters were asked whether they wanted to sell Trenton Water Works to a private firm. The cost of that ballot only amounted to $1.1 million at the time- $1.3 million in today’s dollars considering inflation.
According to the report, the biggest spender in this year’s Jersey City election was Airbnb, which spent $4.3 million to defeat the ballot question.
Airbnb’s three largest expenditures through the Keep Our Homes Committee included $2.2 million on digital and cable television advertisements, $713,911 on field operations and $455,264 on mailers sent to residents.
The biggest opponent of the measure was the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, a union that represents thousands of housekeepers, concierges, and doormen in New York City and northern New Jersey. It spent only $1.2 million through three committees it runs.
While the bulk of the spending was against the Nov. 5 referendum, it passed by a 69 percent to 31 percent margin with 27,631 votes cast, according to the Hudson County Clerk’s office.
This means that come January, short-term rentals will be prohibited for more than 60 days in properties where the owner does not live onsite. Short-term rentals will also be prohibited entirely in buildings with more than four units, and renters will not be allowed to serve as short-term rental hosts.
To operate short-term rentals property owners will also be required to obtain a permit through the city’s Division of Housing Preservation and each permit is valid for one year and must be renewed annually.
New record holder
Based on ELEC reports filed by candidates and special interest groups, ELEC estimates the Jersey City School board race cost $590, 019 – a new all-time high for a board of education race in New Jersey.
The total is not final as some reports won’t be available until January and the commission expects spending will exceed $600,000.
Largely the LeFrak Organization, a Jersey City development company, drove spending in the race, which raised $465,000 through a political committee called Fairer NJ in support of the “Change for Children” ticket.
So far, it has reported spending $312,036.
The “Education Matters” slate of primarily school board incumbents benefited from the spending of the local branch of New Jersey Education Association, the Jersey City Education Association.
Using its state-registered political action committee, NJEA gave donations totaling $30,000 to its preferred Jersey City school board candidates and reported spending $504,202 through its super PAC, Garden State Forward, on elections statewide. At least $18,296 from Garden State Forward was spent on Facebook ads backing Jersey City school board candidates
Garden State Forward also issued a $195,831 check on Oct. 21 for “literature, mail, signs and online ads.”
NJEA’s union local, Jersey City Education Association, so far has filed no disclosure reports showing expenditures in 2019 by its political action committee.
Incumbent Gerald Lyon of the Education Matters slate was elected to serve a three-year term on the board as did Change for Children slate members Noemi Velasquez and Alexander Hamilton.
Incumbents Gina Verdibello and Lekendrick Shaw, also of the Education Matters slate, were each elected to serve on a one year term.