Sizing up the BOE Election Aftermath in Jersey City

Thomas in Jersey City.

“Good men refuse to govern,” Plato said. Considering the tone of this the campaign for Jersey City Board of Education, governing may be least of their problems. 

While Plato was mocking people, who are too anxious to take the lead, the election may have left the board with as serious a power crisis as it supposedly cured. 

Mayor Steven Fulop, flush with pride over his victory over Airbnb, appears to be avoiding the inevitable pending disaster the aftermath of the election has left after his key ally on the board, President Sudhan Thomas was defeated. 

The election saw two potent political forces clash in an attempt to wrestle control of the board – corporate-backed candidates vs. candidates backed by the teacher’s union. While the union-backed candidates prevailed, it was hardly a decisive victory – and Thomas’ loss may force the board in a conflict on who will serve as president over the next year. 

Gina Verdibello, who was top vote-getter in a rare election cycle that had five seats up for grabs, is well aware of how important wearing the union label is. In the past when the Jersey City Education Associate did not endorse her, she lost. Yet, each of her previous attempts appears to have expanded her voter base, even into sections of the city she would not have expected, and all of this came together this year. 

But Thomas’ loss may prove a more serious blow since his leadership over the last few years appears to have kept the district from devolving into utter economic chaos when faced with massive cuts to state aid. 

Thomas’ pre-election calculation that he would carry five of the city’s six wards proved inaccurate. He could not say if the massive negative campaign against him was effective or other reasons contributed to his loss. 

“I didn’t campaign as hard for myself this time as I did in the past,” he said after the election, struggling to come up with a reason for his loss. “It may be that people who voted for our ticket were confused by the fact that five candidates were running this time instead of the usual three – so they stopped when they voted for the first three.” 

This may explain why Verdibello as well as two other of his running mates, won their seats. But the fact is none of his running mates carried the same political baggage into this election as Thomas did. In particular were issued regarding his involvement with the city’s jobs program whereas head of the board, Thomas was largely responsible for firing former Gov. Jim McGreevey as executive director. 

Thomas not only made political enemies as a result of the move, he alienated some of his own supporters on the city council when he appointed a majority of the committee to replace McGreevey and threw his own hat in seeking the job for himself. 

Although a political ally of Fulop’s, Thomas’ involvement in the McGreevey scandal as well as questionable handling of the jobs program’s finances may well have kept Fulop from helping Thomas’ reelection effort. 

Fulop also had other reasons when it came to this year’s Board of Education fight. Some of his closest allies were involved in supporting the corporate backed candidates. To take a side meant he would certainly peeve off someone. 

When asked if he saw this year’s election effort as a success for him, Fulop replied, “Organizationally and politically yes.” 

But he admitted the Board of Education election posed problems for him. 

“I didn’t pick a side in the Board of Education (election) being that we have a funding issue we need to solve, and I need to have a working relationship with whomever. I didn’t want anyone against the administration and everyone who won is supportive and willing to work together.” 

While a clear victory by the union-backed slate would have been a huge boon for Fulop. But the 3-2 split – while in favor of the union – creates a divided board. 

Thomas’ defeat creates a power vacuum on the board that may be more difficult to resolve, partly because Thomas took a lead role in the past in dealing with many of the major issues – especially in finding ways to avoid laying off teachers despite massive cuts in state aid. While a controversial leader,  

Thomas was also very powerful and replacing him will be difficult – forcing the board to pick someone who may not have the same skill set as Thomas had. 

Although Marilyn Roman has seniority on the board, some believe she will not seek to become president. This leaves three other possible choices: Lorenzo Richardson, Gerald Lyon and Naomi Velazquez. 

While Richardson has served as vice president, Lyons may get more support. Rumor claims Naomi has the five votes lined up. 

Second only to the cut in aid is the selection of a new schools superintendent. Lyons, and Richardson were key players in removing Dr. Marcia Lyles as superintendent earlier this year. But an ongoing legal challenge by Lyles could delay the board’s naming he replacement and create even more conflict on the board. 

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