Three incumbents lose school board seats Farina is only one re-elected, as Gilliard, Markle, and Snyder gain seats

Hoboken voters seemed out to teach members of the city’s Board of Education a lesson last week, rejecting three of the four incumbents who were up for re-election.

Political observers rushed to speculate about what the losses could mean for the future of Hoboken politics, as the results of the April school board elections are often seen as a sign of what might come in the May City Council elections.

Carrie Gilliard, Rose Marie Markle, and Tricia Snyder of the “Kids’ First” slate will be sworn in next Thursday as the newest members of the nine-member, all-volunteer board. Current Board President James J. Farina, a long-time member of the board and political player in town, was the only incumbent kept in office by voters.

Hobokenites clearly voted for a change, although any election analysis cannot be so cut-and-dried. For instance, while the victorious “Kids’ First” ticket has been described as a “reform” ticket, member Carrie Gilliard had served on the board before and was at that time part of an administration-backed slate. So it is not a ticket comprised strictly of political newcomers.

The ticket was, however, backed by the current board’s chief critic, member Theresa Minutillo. Even though voters expressed dissatisfaction with the board’s way of running things, they did vote in favor of the $52.9 million budget approved by the outgoing board.

Voter backlash?

Both the winners and losers said they believed the outcome reflected voters’ dissatisfaction with the board’s recent actions.

“A lot of the in-fighting affected the results,” said board member and parent Theresa Burns, who lost her seat in Tuesday’s election. Burns had filed ethics charges against board member Carmelo Garcia two years ago for allegedly voting on contracts that could financially affect him and a member of his family. He was eventually censured by the state.

Carrie Gilliard had the same hypothesis as did Burns at her slate’s victory party: “Those incumbents that lost paid a price for the behavior they have displayed as board members,” she said. “Getting those three seats is confirmation that people were not satisfied with what the incumbents have done.”

It wasn’t just that there was infighting on the board. Political infighting in Hoboken as a whole has been occurring in recent months, shaking up the normal reformers-vs.-old-timers battle lines that used to make it easy to tell who was on who’s side.

Mayor David Roberts, who has announced that he will not run for re-election in two years, refused to endorse any of the slates for the board seats this year, and only publicly supported Farina.

Besides Burns, board members Magdalena Porrata and Wanda Santana-Alicea also lost their seats.

Political implications

In the past, the mayor of the city has always endorsed a slate of candidates, and usually, those candidates took the majority in an election.

Not only did Roberts refuse to endorse a board slate this year, he has also refused to back a slate for City Council, and this could translate into a good chance for the council’s so-called “reform” candidates.

With the new buildings in town and more new voters, political newcomers may be able to get a foothold in Hoboken’s heated political scene.

“I think the implications from this election for the [council] elections, is that you can look at it and almost see where the wards will go,” said Burns, who ran for City Council in 2005.

She pointed out that only 500 people voted in the 4th Ward, where a large majority of the public school children live. Those voters would have been the most familiar with the board’s work.

The fact that they did not vote probably gave the reformers an advantage.

Theresa Minutillo said that this year’s results were a clear indication of voters’ desire for new ways.

“Of course this was a vote for change,” she said. “It was a vote to the board and the superintendent that we want to see things done differently in the future.”

City Council Vice-President Terry LaBruno said it was significant that voters chose a combination of newcomers and a veteran.

“While the community voted for change, they also saw that it would be in the school district’s best interest to keep the most experienced member on the board,” she said, referring to Farina.

LaBruno, a teacher at St. Mary High School in Jersey City, also stressed that the importance of school elections should not be overlooked.

“One of the single biggest factors in Hoboken to keep families here is the education system,” she said.

“Obviously we are one of the most looked upon cities in terms of rebirth, but that means nothing if we don’t have a school system to match.”

Results and reactions

Hoboken’s board elections usually draw a low turnout, and last week was no exception, with only about 3,000 voters casting ballots to elect Gilliard, Markle and Snyder and Farina. That is approximately 10 percent of the city’s almost 29,000 eligible voters.

“Sometimes no matter how hard you campaign or what side you’re on, there is voter apathy,” said board member and Police Captain Anthony Romano, who served as campaign manager for the incumbents’ ticket.

Romano said that as more young families took up permanent residence, they would become more involved in future elections.

The City Clerk’s office was buzzing with activity on Tuesday night, as poll workers turned in voting machine cartridges, and board and council members milled about, watching the results come in.

Board Secretary David Anthony sat at the helm of one of the office’s new Mac computers, hitting the refresh button on the Hudson County clerk’s web site for all to see the preliminary results as they were reported.

Incumbent candidates Santana-Alicea and Porrata were among those gathered there, along with board members Frank Raia (who is a current council candidate) and Anthony Romano.

Farina was not overjoyed with his victory.

“I won, but my team lost,” he said.

New Superintendent of Schools Jack Raslowsky also came by City Hall to see the results and expressed his satisfaction that residents voted in favor of the budget.

“I’m very pleased that the budget passed,” he said. “It’s a sign of faith in the good work that the outgoing board did. It allows us to move forward in good ways.”

Moving forward

The winning members of the “Kids First” reformer ticket outlined some of their ideas for change as they celebrated their victory at Court Street:

“It’s nice to see that people want change,” said Rose Marie Markle. “People are sick of the stuff that’s been going on, on the board.”

The Hoboken native, who is a parent of a sophomore at Hoboken High School, said that one of her priorities as a board member will be to ensure that the high school’s alternative program has more vocational course offerings.

“If we’re going to keep the vocational school, we have to make it a true vocational school,” she said, alluding to the fact that there are only few vocations currently being taught in the program’s first year.

Tricia Snyder, who won a one-year, unexpired term on the board, also planned on making adjustments to the high school curriculum.

Snyder is a professor of economics at William Paterson University, and said she teaches a lot of Hoboken High School graduates there.

“I’d like to build connections between high schools and state universities through a dual enrollment system,” she said, explaining that students could earn high school and college credit at the same time through the program.

A vote for change

Newly-elected Gilliard said that among things she and her running mates will do differently is to engage in dialogue with all members of the board.

“Even though they will have a majority of five people, in dialoguing I believe [the new board members] may be able to get one person who might be on the fence to change their mind,” she said.

That one person on the fence may end up to be, more often than not, board member and Director of Human Services Carmelo Garcia. He acknowledged this after the election, saying his role would be comparable to Sandra Day O’Connor’s on the Supreme Court.

O’Connor was often the swing vote on important decisions.

“I see it as a unifying role,” he said. “That’s what Sandra Day O’Connor did.”

He added: “My record reflects that I’ve been open and objective to any position that advances the best interests of our children.”

Garcia often sided with Santana-Alicea and Porrata on board issues. Now, he will be on his own between two factions comprised of Farina, Romano, Rhodes-Kearns and Raia, and Minutillo, Gilliard, Markle and Snyder.

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