Although he never finished college, the deputy mayor of Jersey City was compelled to see each one of his four daughters receive a college education. As far he is concerned, education always takes the lead when it comes to priorities.
With each of those daughters well beyond her college days now, former Hoboken resident Eugene Drayton has gained a new opportunity to pursue his interest in the educational process by being elected the president of the Hudson County Schools of Technology. Comprised of five sites that serve an estimated 4,800 students, the county program has focused on adult education, vocational programs, and specialized curricula for high school students since 1975.
Appointed to the board by Bernie Hartnett, the new county executive, Drayton, 58, received the nomination and confirmation for board president all at once. The position adds another notch on Drayton’s scoreboard of public service that has extended throughout his entire adult life.
Drayton met with Frank Gargiulo, superintendent of the Hudson County Schools of Technology, a week ago Thursday to discuss the vision of the academic system. According to Gargiulo, the program needs to add more buildings because it currently relies on space within other municipal school buildings. High Tech High School in North Bergen and County Prep High School in Jersey City are the only buildings specifically designated to the Hudson County Schools of Technology at this time. By locating grant money, Gargiulo hopes to expand its resources.
Without thinking twice, Drayton said he is up for the challenge. "I’m always willing to serve in any capacity I can," Drayton said.
Originally from Charleston, S.C., Drayton moved to Hoboken at the age of 15. Before finishing high school, he enlisted in the Army and served an 11-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Returning home without any injuries, he received a GED and went on to begin a career in public service.
Beginning with a five-year stint as a mailman in Hoboken, Drayton opted for the law enforcement badge in 1972. The decision carried him through a 22-year career that was marked by promotional success, a rare achievement for an African American in a police department where virtually none existed.
Other honors followed these promotions, including a two-year term on the Hoboken Board of Education and a seat on the Hoboken Housing Authority’s board from 1994-1999.
In addition to protecting and serving the public at large, Drayton has always taken a special interest in civil rights for minorities. In 1963 he joined hands with thousands of other activists in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic march on Washington D.C. In this same spirit, Drayton served as a civil liberties watchdog during his tenure as president of the Hoboken chapter of the NAACP from 1979-94.
"We came a long way," Drayton said, reflecting on the decades following King’s "I have a dream" speech. "I find today people across the board are more together than they’ve ever been. But we still have a long way to go."
Continuing to carry out the dream, Drayton worked with fellow Jersey City civil rights activist Betty Outlaw to coordinate a return to Washington D.C. in 1988 with a group of local people for the 25th anniversary of King’s speech.
How they met
Residing in Hoboken for most of his life, Drayton often found refuge in Jersey City’s social scene in his early twenties. By making friends and networking in the neighborhood around Pacific Avenue, he became an acquaintance of a Jersey City police officer in 1967. The officer, whom Drayton describes as a major influence on his life and an idol for much of the African-American community at the time, was Glenn Cunningham.
Under Cunningham’s direction, Drayton tossed aside his postal route and picked up a police beat. In 1979, Drayton officially declared Jersey City his second home when he bought his present residence. His long track record of public service alongside his support for Cunningham’s campaign landed him a position as deputy mayor of Jersey City this year.
As one of two full-time deputy mayors, Drayton spends his days addressing many of the problems citizens bring to the mayor’s office, for an annual salary of $50,000. Problems take the form of square adhesive pieces of yellow paper that line his walls and stacks of documents piled on his desk. After six months of carrying out these functions on a daily basis, Drayton knows that his day begins at 9 a.m., but is not too sure if and when it ends.
When it does end, he can take a take a deep breath, count to 10, and rush over to the Hudson County Schools of Technology to lead a board meeting.