Two school board candidates backed by West New York Mayor Felix Roque won re-election in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 election, but there was also a surprise.
Mayoral critic Matthew F. Cheng also won a spot, even with the mayor’s political pundit, Pablo Fonseca, working to curb him.
Eight candidates battled it out for three seats with three-year terms. The final election results, which include provisional and vote-by-mail ballots, were posted on line by the County Board of Elections this past Monday, Nov. 6.
Several prominent political movers and shakers – such as former Freeholder Jose Munoz – strayed from publically endorsing candidates in the race, resulting in an overall lackadaisical contest.
Of the Roque-backed Children First slate, incumbents Lorena Portillo and Jonathan Castaneda were elected with 1,076 and 740 respectively. Cheng was able to get ahead of Castaneda with 831 votes.
The third Roque-supported candidate, incumbent Almer J. Martins-Casadiego, received 687 votes.
Besides 43 personal choice votes, three other independent candidates weren’t able to make the final cut. Ronald C. Scheurle, who owns a funeral home in West New York, ended in fifth place with 510 votes. Boris J. Gresely, a graduate of the West New York school system, garnered 441 votes. Local police officer Wendell Oms accumulated 379 votes.
Gresely and Scheurle are sometimes seen as critics of the Roque administration.
With almost 18 percent of the vote, Cheng’s triumph is perhaps the biggest upset for the Roque administration. The successful businessman and founder/principal of eCoupons Inc. has been referred to as a “watchdog” on the Board of Education.
He has previously provided evidence to the School Ethics Commission alleging ethical breaches that included alleged political influence in the school district. Cheng ran a successful campaign in the Board of Education race for a one-year term in early 2014. At the time, his win was viewed by anti-Roque people as a rejection of the policies by the previous board.
With almost 19 percent of the vote, Matthew F. Cheng’s victory is perhaps the biggest upset for the Roque administration in the school board elections.
As far as the other two winners and Children First members, Portillo was appointed to the school board last year after beating out four other candidates who vied to fill a vacant seat. This is Castaneda’s first time on the board.
Portillo, a mother of two in the school district, is the former owner of a day care center. She moved to the U.S from El Salvador when she was 17 and earned a bachelor’s of business administration at Kean University, worked as a hospital administrator, and served as vice president and coordinator of Educational Programs for the Salvadorian Community Organization.
Castaneda, who graduated from Memorial High School, attended Seton Hall University. In the past, he has worked in the legislative offices of both U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D – NJ) and Rep. Albio Sires (D – Eighth Dist.). A Seton Hall University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in diplomacy and international relations, he also has a master’s degree in public administration. A fellow and president to the New York Chapter of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Alumni Association, he also served on an advisory board at Hudson County Community College.
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.