Three school board races carry weight into the future for key power players


Three School Board elections on Nov. 4th in some ways have far more political import than a series of mostly gerrymandered federal contests.

They include School Board elections in Elizabeth, Jersey City and West New York.

Jersey City is interesting because it is the first election since he has become mayor in which Steven Fulop is not contending.

He built his political capital on school board elections.

Now that he’s in city hall, the mayor has a bigger fiefdom and broader alliances.

The group he once partnered with, David Tepper’s Parents for Progress, continues to wage a battle for control, however, against the local-New Jersey Education Association-backed school board.

The NJEA has poured $100K into the race.

Parents for Progress has countered with around $85k.

With half his city hall troops on one side of the battle and half on the other side, Fulop, according to a source, “has washed his hands” of the school board.

Tepper and his group want the three seats in contention in November on the nine-member board.

The charter schools proponent lost in Newark and lost in Trenton earlier this year. Jersey City is now his prime battlefront.

Another key contest lies a little farther south, in Elizabeth, where state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) and Mayor Chris Bollwage are vying to seize control of the Elizabeth Board of Education.

Of the three races, this one contains the most history and political drama – and the outcome in less than two weeks carries unmistakable implications.

The PAC affiliated with Lesniak – the Committee for Economic Growth and Social Justice – is bearing down on local BOE leader Rafael Fajardo (pictured) and company in a control election.

Fajardo’s group has occupied power on the board since the late 1990s.

They have built themselves into a political powerhouse that saw fit to endorse Gov. Chris Christie in 2009, and came close to winning in LD20.

They control it now, 6-3.

If Lesniak and Bollwage win two of the three seats at stake, control flips.

It’s a huge competitive battlefront. After spurning Fajardo’s high watermark effort in 2011 when the BOE defeated the senator in Elizabeth while losing district-wide, then drubbing the BOE badly in 2013 and going on offense in the BOE race, Lesniak’s allies are convinced they can irrevocably damage Fajardo in less than two weeks.

Fajardo is in full-scale defensive mode, with BOE organizers on high alert through Election Day.

The final Board of Ed race with longer term implications is in West New York, where incumbent Mayor Felix Roque – up for re-election in 2015 – wants to flex his muscles in a showdown with his rival, Commissioner Count Wiley.

Wiley is downplaying the BOE race, focusing his energies on next year’s collision when he’s on the ballot, but Team Roque – managed by veteran operative Pablo Fonseca – wants to use Nov. 4th victories as traction and power perception.

Three school board races carry weight into the future for key power players