Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hanging in the Balance: Hoboken's District Public Schools

Demarest School, formerly Hoboken's High School (credit: Hoboken Historical Museum Digital Archives)

As most people already know by now, the QLC Board of Education Candidates forum revealed to all in attendance exactly who was backing the Parents United slate and what values they hold dear. Beyond the thuggish hijinks though, little discussion has focused on the debate itself which was revealing in its own right.

Why These Candidates?

Parents United are not remotely qualified for the School Board positions they are running for. Worse, their campaign is actively working to undermine Hoboken's Public Schools with the ultimate goal of convincing parents to abandon the public schools altogether. Like last year's "Smarter Future" slate, and the "Education for all Children" slate the year prior, the PU slate were hand-picked by a group of politicians with long histories of corruption at the School Board and city level. Like all candidates they have chosen to run, none have had any prior experience with or shown any interest in Hoboken's Public School District.

If PU are elected, their job will be to do what they are told to do, just as their elected predecessors are doing today.  Once they have inserted their own Superintendent, they will have total control of the multimillion dollar public school budget and will use it to reassert their political power, just as they did before they were voted out in 2009. As has been the case with every School Board election for more than a decade, this election is about providing a quality education versus draining the budget to consolidate political power and pad pockets.

PU's total lack of prior experience or interest in the public school district was on display at last week's candidate's debate. Incredibly, not one of them has ever attended a school board meeting. And it was obvious from their comments that they are completely uninformed on what is happening at the district schools, particularly at the High School.

What They've Been Told to Say

The PU platform comprises the classic, contradictory, political platitudes: cut costs and improve everything. They claim they love the programs that exist but also say things are in a bad state and many more programs are needed. They say they intend to dramatically reduce costs but won't say how they intend to do this. Presumably this is because any proposal to dramatically cut costs must involve dramatically cutting services, programs, teachers or benefits. Not only would this damage the schools, this would also run counter to all of their promised improvements. But, hey, they're running for election on behalf of the people who selected them to run, so they're saying whatever they've been told to say.

Along those lines, one of PU's most obvious failings is their manifest ignorance of school programs and services. At the debate they claimed the public schools were deficient and needed to add language classes, cooperate with local businesses, work with Stevens Institute and other higher education institutions, add STEM courses, and add cybersecurity classes. All of these already exist! Their complete ignorance of the district combined with their desire to take control of it is not only an insult, but also a threat, to district students, parents and teachers.

Trashing Hoboken High School

What riles me the most though is PU's unrelenting, underlying, message that the High School is a terrible, scary, school that no one in their right mind would send their children to. At the debate, two of the PU candidates stated they wouldn't send their own kids to the High School, and the third said with a resigned sigh that she had "no choice" but to use the High School. Trashing Hoboken High School is a tradition amongst opponents to school reform. Their supporters enthusiastically embrace this disparaging message and, by implication, disparage the students, the teachers, the staff and, of course, the Superintendent, and the School Board.

Every High School student, every one of their parents, and every High School teacher and staff member should be personally insulted by PU's constant, ignorant claims about the High School. Unlike every other high school option for Hoboken children, the Hoboken Public School District is the only district that unconditionally accepts (in fact, is legally bound to accept) every student, regardless of economic background, physical or mental ability, or academic ability. What does this mean? It means that Hoboken public schools, and the High School in particular, have a more diverse population than any other schools in the city.

Those who have experienced the strong sense of community at Hoboken High understand that diversity is a core value and a strength. But it goes without saying that student diversity leads to diversity in grades and, by extension, diversity in test scores. Diversity in test scores does not, however, imply, as PU would have you believe, that Hoboken High School teachers are poor, curricula are substandard, or that the Superintendent and School Board neglect academic achievement. In fact, the reality is just the opposite. But as was clearly evident at the debate, irresponsibly trashing the High School is seen as a more effective talking point then providing considerate, insightful constructive criticism. Of course, to do the latter would require taking time to learn about the current state of the High School and attending a School Board meeting or two.

The Real Agenda

But PU has no reason to learn about the current state of Hoboken's Schools. Their goal is to undermine them. And the reason they do this is a fundamental part of a longer-term strategy to drive people away from the schools so that no one's left to notice when they divert resources away from the classrooms. I know this sounds like overheated conspiracy talk but, unfortunately, this exact behavior occurred for decades and only ended in 2009 when reformers first gained a majority on the School Board. Well-documented forensic audits and legal contract reviews revealed years of pillaging by PU's current backers. Once one understands that this is, in fact, the reason that PU is running, their ignorance and negativity make sense. Improving education isn't the point.

The Future is in Jeopardy

Last year's school board election was a blow to reform's efforts to continue to improve Hoboken's public schools. Reformers lost two seats which means that, this year, reform's majority is in jeopardy of being lost to those who controlled the schools pre-2009. Unlike last year, however, I sense the resurgence of a grassroots movement supporting Hoboken's Public Schools. Further, I've noticed parents starting to feel protective and proud of their schools. They're no longer willing to simply accept the uninformed, negative chatter. Community confidence in the high school is growing because parents are getting involved and getting informed.

Realize that last year's School Board election was decided by only 34 votes! So even if you are ambivalent about voting at the national level, keep in mind that your vote matters at the municipal level, not just in deciding election outcomes, but also deciding the direction of our city's public schools!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Scary Get Out the Vote Story

A Low Interest Year

It's really hard to generate interest in a school board election, especially when there are no state or federal elections happening at the same time. But the school board has elections every year and this is one of those low interest years.

In 2011, the last time there was an election like this, all three reform candidates were defeated. Who defeated them? Candidates financed by people with a history of redirecting school funds to friends and family. And this year is shaping up to be a repeat performance.

The Usual Suspects

The usual suspects, Carmelo Garcia, Frank Raia, and Michael Russo, have united to support a cobbled-together slate consisting of perennial candidate and Raia-favorite, Britney Montgomery (city council 2013, school board 2014, and now school board again), perennial candidate and scary-angry ex-school employee John Madigan (school board 2002, 2003, 2010, 2011), and newcomer Alanna Kauffmann who, judging by her debate performance, is far out of her depth.

I leave it to Hoboken Donkey and GrafixAvenger to provide an overview of the candidates. As for, Garcia, Raia, and Russo, volumes have been written (here, here or here for example) on how they tirelessly work to divert taxpayer funds from the city and schools to benefit themselves and their friends. Madigan himself was a recipient of one of these jobs, until it was deemed "inconsequential" and eliminated by a reform school board in 2010.

Scared Yet?

Which brings me to my video. The prospect of any one of Montgomery, Madigan, or Kauffmann being elected and sitting with the reform school board we've worked so hard to elect is appalling. Their role would be to disrupt board meetings (something Garcia himself was renowned for) with the goal of discouraging parents from participating in improving our schools. This, in turn, sets the stage for low parent interest in future school board elections, which leads to further election victories for the bad guys.

In no time they will regain control of the school board and start stealing from the classrooms to provide jobs and perks for friends and family. So if this isn't a scary enough story to motivate you to vote 2-4-6 Kluepfel, Dallara, Velez for Hoboken Board of Education, you must be dead!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lane Bajardi’s Pyrrhic Loss

Last week, a long-running lawsuit targeting two Hoboken political bloggers, Nancy Pincus and Roman Brice, and ten anonymous commenters, was summarily dismissed in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The suit sought two million dollars in punitive damages, and additional monetary awards for emotional distress, reputational damage, reimbursement for attorneys fees and a “cyber investigative service.” It also sought to remove articles and comments posted to a myriad of local and state websites. The suit was filed in July 2012 by Hoboken political activists Lane Bajardi and Kim Cardinal who claimed their reputations had been damaged by the bloggers and commenters. The trial judge felt otherwise.

Let Me Introduce You To Some of My Friends

For the first week of the trial, Bajardi’s council presented the plaintiff's case to the judge and jury, calling on a rogues’ gallery of Hoboken’s political scene to testify on Bajardi’s behalf: Anthony Petrosino (who maintained a job and an apartment in Austin TX while simultaneously employed full-time as Assistant to the Hoboken Superintendent of Schools), Peter Cammarano (disgraced Hoboken mayor imprisoned for two years and disbarred after accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant), Patrick Ricciardi (former Hoboken City IT Manager, sentenced to five years probation for a conspiracy that involved “intercepting” Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s emails and forwarding them to as-yet unnamed recipients), Tim Occhipinti (Hoboken councilman, elected in 2010 with the largest number of vote-by-mail votes ever cast in Hudson County, prompting the County Prosecutor’s office to contact the state Attorney General’s office), and Beth Mason (Hoboken councilwoman, who, along with her husband, attorney Richard G. Mason, recently received a record fine from the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission). These are the people Bajardi chose to bolster his case?

Wrongful Imprisonment

Unsurprisingly, at the end of the week, Judge Patrick Arre chose to dismiss the case and send the jury home rather than let the trial proceed any further. In his statement, Judge Arre indicated that Bajardi had not legally substantiated his claims against the bloggers and commenters. With that, Pincus, Brice and the commenters were released from a two and a half year ordeal, not unlike being released from two and a half years wrongful imprisonment. Like wrongful imprisonment, the defendants were deprived of their time, their privacy, their finances, and faced the threat of financial and reputational ruin. And that’s precisely what a SLAPP suit is intended to do. From Wikipedia:

"A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism.”

Squabble or SLAPP?

Sure looks like it was a SLAPP suit to me. Except for the “...does not normally expect to win the lawsuit” part. I really get the impression that Bajardi and Cardinal felt strongly they should win. After all, the lawsuit has to have disrupted their lives to some extent. And the mountains of personal email presented as evidence against them is likely to reveal a less than flattering portrait of the couple. Of course, the prospect of winning two million dollars and assorted awards could certainly make it all worthwhile. But they’d really have to believe they were going to win, otherwise why would they subject themselves to the process?

So one might come to the conclusion that this suit wasn’t a SLAPP suit at all. It was instead simply what some outlets have portrayed it as: a defamation suit arising from squabbling political factions - nothing more than a grown-up version of a school yard spat - with the SLAPP label affixed only as strategic move by the defense to undermine the plaintiffs' case.

Un-Winnable From the Start

What I believe is that this suit was different things to different people. To Bajardi and Cardinal, this suit was about extracting punitive financial compensation from bloggers and commenters. But to some political allies of Bajardi and Cardinal, this was intended to be a SLAPP suit. For example, I’m guessing that Councilwoman Mason and her husband, no fans of the defendants, were ambivalent about the suit’s outcome. For SLAPP suits it’s the journey’s duration that matters, not the destination.

The court dismissed the suit mid-trial on the grounds that the plaintiffs were unable to substantiate their claims. This is probably the strongest evidence that the suit was a SLAPP suit. To anyone familiar with the case it was clear that the evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims simply didn’t exist. The First Amendment and New Jersey state law set high bars for proving defamation. Surely any lawyer worth their salt would have advised Bajardi and Cardinal of this from the outset.  The only reason a lawyer would agree to take on a case like this would be if it were guaranteed to drag on thereby guaranteeing an ongoing income. Obviously, there was no prospect of taking a percentage of “winnings” at the end.

Feeling Used?

But this raises a question I’m still struggling to answer: Why did Bajardi and Cardinal proceed with the suit? Were their lawyers incompetent? Did they ignore their lawyers’ advice? Or were Bajardi and Cardinal urged on by parties who needed an excuse to launch a SLAPP suit? These parties saw that Bajardi and Cardinal were eager to be the public face of the suit as long as they believed they could win. So these parties let them believe it, maybe even convinced them to believe it, perhaps even providing financial support, while withholding from them the knowledge that the suit was unwinnable.

I don’t believe this question is necessarily unanswerable. For example, if it were to come to light that the suit was financed by a politically affiliated third party then we’d have our answer. The true answer may lie in the mass of evidence accumulated during the long and extensive discovery and deposition phases of this case. We’ll see…

Bent on Self-Destruction

In the meantime, predictably, Bajardi’s lawyer has stated his intention to appeal the court’s decision. At this very moment, I imagine a couple of legal interns at a high-end law firm are poring over the trial transcripts looking for grounds for appeal, whether Bajardi wants this to happen or not. At this point you have to wonder if Bajardi and Cardinal aren’t asking themselves if they’d rather be getting on with their lives. Going back "once more unto the breach" of what is an undoubtedly unwinnable contest doesn’t make sense for them - it only makes sense in the context of a SLAPP suit.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Evolution of Reform: The Next Wave

Public School No. 6 at Willow and 11th Streets c. 1907- 1914 (credit: Hoboken Historical Museum)

As someone who's assisted reform slates in every school board and city election since 2009, I've occasionally thought about a future where we'd get past the stark "good versus evil" state of Hoboken politics to arrive at a more nuanced, normal state of political affairs. When I describe Hoboken's bloody knuckle political scene to friends from the Jersey suburbs, they're amazed. They're amazed that millions of dollars were pillaged from the public schools, that the current mayor's private emails were wiretapped, that a sitting councilman agreed to accept a bribe from an FBI informant, that two of our recent mayors (Russo and Cammarano) were jailed for corruption, and that's just a small sample off the top of my head.

The Long Path to Reform

But you see, this corrupt state of affairs has a very long history in Hudson County, as recounted in the excellent books Five-Finger Discount and Killing the Poormaster. Until recently it was understood that whoever won a majority would loot the taxpayers to reward friends, family and business partners. And this is how Hoboken operated until 2009 when a majority of reformers were elected to the Public School Board, and a reform mayor was elected to City Hall.  At the city level, the path to reform has been rocky. Since 2009, Mayor Zimmer has only had majority support in City Council for two years: between November 2009 and November 2010 when Michael Lenz served as interim Fourth Ward Councilman, and since November 2013 when James Doyle was elected Councilman-at-Large. In contrast, the Kids First reform slate have maintained a majority on the Hoboken School Board since 2009 and not surprisingly, they have accomplished a lot. So much so, that I think we may be on the cusp of a long-awaited change in Hoboken's political climate.

How Corruption Survives

As I've written about elsewhere, Hoboken started to actively encourage gentrification in the mid-80s aiming to refill nearly empty coffers. On the one hand, there was resentment directed towards the "newcomers" that came to occupy the new developments. On the other hand, the money started flowing again. Moreover, the newcomers were, generally-speaking, politically ignorant.

Today's Hoboken is famous as a temporary home to 25-35 year old young professionals, renting shares, getting their careers on-track, partying, meeting life partners, and then moving to the suburbs a few years later to settle down and have families. I can tell you that, as someone who's accompanied candidates door-to-door canvassing over the years, I've been through big rental buildings where virtually no one is registered to vote nor interested in registering to vote. Local politics just isn't on their radar. Hoboken is only a temporary stop on the road of life. And this suited the corrupt powers-that-be perfectly.

Over the years local voting blocs were created and exploited by Hoboken's old established political factions. Some of these blocs still exist, primarily in the city's assisted housing developments and in the Third and Fourth Wards, parts of the city that haven't yet been overrun with new developments. Although these blocs get smaller each year as long-time residents sell and move out, retire to somewhere more affordable, or simply die, they've been a force to reckon with given the relative apathy of the vast majority of Hoboken's population. 

When they're not squabbling amongst themselves and join forces, these blocs can win elections that disrupt and even set back reform. Some examples: in 2010 Tim Occhipinti was elected Fourth Ward Councilman with an unprecedented number of vote-by-mail submissions from paid "campaign workers." In 2011, Michael Russo, fresh from being exposed for agreeing to accept a bribe from an FBI informant, was re-elected Third Ward Councilman. That same year, in a record-low voter turnout, three school board seats were lost to Peter Biancamano, Francis Rhodes-Kearns, and Carmelo Garcia - individuals I shall return to shortly who, needless to say, are no friends of reform.

Plundering The Schools

On the topic of voter apathy, I hope you know that there's an election November 4th. And, along with the inauguration of Cory Booker, which isn't generating much voter interest, there are also three positions up for election on the nine seat Hoboken Public School Board, which should be generating voter interest. Why? Because historically, the school board has served as a big fat loot bag to be plundered and, despite a reform majority since 2009, there are still a lot of people with their eyes on the prize. What might they do if they get their hands on it? We only have to look back to the 2004-06 budget years for a graphic example. When the Kids First reform slate gained a majority in 2009 one of the first things they discovered was a 297 page KPMG audit of the 2004-06 budgets that had been buried by the non-reform majority at the time.

Here are a few of the many KPMG audit "lowlights." Over 1,000 improperly documented employees on payroll, including employees on payroll after termination and even after death. Outsourcing janitorial services while simultaneously retaining 60 janitors on payroll.  Almost $2 million in unapproved vendor overpayments. Expense-paid junkets to Atlantic City for board members and their friends. Tens of thousands of dollars spent on lavish steak dinners, floral arrangements, and "beverages." Even dipping into student-raised funds for non-student expenses. No wonder the audit was hidden. And who were members of the Board majority overseeing all of this? Frank Raia, Francis Rhodes-Kearns (currently running for re-election to the board), and Carmelo Garcia. For those who aren't familiar with Hoboken's political landscape, it's helpful to get to know Frank Raia and Carmelo Garcia a little better because they loom large in this year's School Board election.

Raia, Garcia and Their School Board

Frank "Pupie" Raia is a wealthy local real estate developer, born and raised in Hoboken. You may know him from the lavish public birthday parties he throws for himself every summer in Hoboken's parks. Not only has Raia served on the School Board, but he's also run for Mayor and City Council on numerous occasions.  And when he's not running for office he's helping others run, including School Board slates, most notably in 2011 when Carmelo Garcia, Francis Rhodes-Kearns and Peter Biancamano swept the School Board elections. Raia knows how to leverage his wealth to mobilize voting blocs and this year he's supporting Rhodes-Kearns and Biancamano again. 

Frank Raia (credit:

Carmelo Garcia, also Hoboken born and raised, is a career politician, holding positions at the School Board, City, County, and now at the State level as a newly elected Assemblyman. Until recently Garcia was also Executive Director of the Hoboken Housing Authority (HHA), a position he was selected for in 2009. The HHA manages over 1,300 low income housing units across six locations in Hoboken and, historically, Garcia has garnered significant numbers of votes from these blocs, not just for himself but also for candidates he chooses to back. Like Frank Raia, Garcia is also supporting a School Board slate this year consisting of three of his loyal supporters: Brian Murray, Lynn Danzker, and Patricia Waiters.

Carmelo Garcia (credit:

I've already mentioned Garcia and Raia's time on the School Board, the same time millions of tax dollars were diverted away from students and classrooms. Why was this happening? 

Raia, a successful businessman, certainly didn't need anyone to pay for his steak dinners. But perhaps it's nothing more than good business sense: why spend your own money when you can spend someone else's? As a real-estate developer, Raia's business partners range from law firms to building contractors, all of whom would appreciate business coming their way. He also has plenty of friends who would appreciate well-paying jobs with benefits. Some notable examples: Hoboken Superintendent of Schools from 2007-2009 Jack Raslowsky, Hoboken Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools from 2007-2009 Anthony Petrosino, School Board Secretary from 2005-2010 David Anthony. All are good friends of Raia's (Raslowsky and Petrosino are boyhood friends, and Anthony was a business partner), all were hired when Raia sat on the school board, and all were provided with excessively generous compensation and benefits. So much so that the Kids First reform majority discovered that both Petrosino's and Anthony's contracts were found to flout State contract laws and guidelines.

The icing on the cake is that both Petrosino and Anthony maintained full-time jobs during their employment with the School Board. Incredibly, court transcripts reveal that Petrosino, during his tenure with the School Board, was also employed by the University of Texas in Austin, rented an apartment in Austin, and had a Texas drivers license. (Interesting side note: Raia and Petrosino are now Board members for a local charter school whose annual budgets and audits are mostly missing from their website.) 

As for Garcia, favors are the currency of politicians, and the School Board provides plenty of opportunities for doling them out. In 2006 Garcia was found guilty of violating the New Jersey School Ethics Act for voting to award a job to his brother, and another job to his boss at the time, former Hudson County Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons. More recently, Garcia was fired from his position as Executive Director of the Hoboken Housing Authority for, you guessed it, lax oversight of the HHA's multi-million dollar budget. A preliminary audit ordered by the recently appointed HHA board reform majority has found, among other things, $3 million of “unjustified non-competitive procurement.” A full audit has yet to be completed.

Despite not holding a School Board majority since 2009, Garcia and Raia still hold out hope that if they persevere, especially in the face of voter apathy, they will eventually regain control of the Board and its budget. This isn't a pipe dream. They swept the Board election in 2011 when only 4,000 people cast votes out of roughly 36,000 eligible voters. They're politically astute and know that this year's election has the hallmarks of a low turnout, winnable election. Now let's take a brief look at their slates and what might be motivating them to run. 

Garcia's Volatile Slate: Murray, Waiters, Danzker

Garcia's slate, consisting of Brian Murray, Patricia Waiters and Lynn Danzker, would explode were it not for Garcia working hard to keep it together. After all, how can Lynne Danzker, who was recently awarded a "Jewish American Heritage Award" by none other than Assemblyman Garcia, be running-mates with Garcia's former paid aide, Patricia Waiters, who made what were considered anti-semetic remarks at an HHA meeting earlier this year, and then recently retracted a public apology for those remarks?

Apart from reprehensible rants at public meetings, Waiters is known as a Hoboken fixture who regularly runs for positions on City Council and the School Board, and speaks frequently at public meetings. And over the past year, the relationship between Garcia and Waiters has been close, as Waiters repeatedly spoke in defense of Garcia at HHA meetings. Waiters' voting base has grown over the years, so one can only assume that Garcia, hoping to garner support from Waiters' base, has instructed Murray and Danzker to ignore Waiters' assertions that there are too many Jews in real-estate and too many Jews appointed to City boards.

Upon receiving her Jewish Heritage Award from Garcia, Danzker stated how proud she was of her religion and her heritage. It boggles the mind how she's managed to rationalize running with Waiters. Danzker and Garcia's kids attend the same charter school that, incidentally, Garcia's wife also works at. And, while Danzker does not have kids in Hoboken's public schools she's known on the Hoboken Moms discussion board for launching multi-font, personal attacks on School Board members, and for consistently misrepresenting the financial relationship between public and charter schools.

Murray is a local real-estate agent whose business relies on convincing people to move "To the 'Burbs." Not surprisingly, Murray's many speeches focus on scaring parents away from Hoboken by way of citing flawed statistics on violence in Hoboken's public schools. Parents whose children attend Hoboken's schools, including me, say that the schools Murray describes bear no resemblance to the schools their children attend. As for Murray's relationship to Garcia, this summer Murray was spotted in an unruly crowd at City Hall cheering in support of Garcia as Garcia faced ejection from his position at the HHA. Why would Murray choose to publicly support Garcia, especially at the risk of sullying his business reputation? Perhaps the two are simply friends? Or perhaps there's a mutually beneficial relationship based on shared real-estate interests? Before his ouster from the HHA, Garcia initiated a controversial multi-million dollar real-estate development plan, dubbed Vision 2020, to "create a mixed-income sustainable community" in place of existing HHA properties.

Raia's Old School Slate: Biancamano, Rhodes-Kearns

Raia's slate, consisting of School Board incumbents Peter Biancamano and Frances Rhodes-Kearns, is old school compared to Garcia's.  Rhodes-Kearns is a nine year veteran of the School Soard, elected long before the Kids First reform majority took control and cleaned things up. In fact, Rhodes-Kearns was the sole Board signator for the aforementioned, absurdly generous, legally questionable, contracts of Anthony Petrosino and David Anthony. Rhodes-Kearns also has a relationship to disgraced, indicted ex-mayor Peter Cammarano: she was a member of his election slate in 2009.

As for Biancamano, he's been groomed for politics by Raia since Biancamano first ran for School Board in 2011. That year, Raia chaperoned Biancamano everywhere on the campaign trail. And last year Raia and Biancamano were running-mates for City Council. Raia funded that campaign to the tune of $122,000 out of his own pocket. Biancamano is often heard complaining about how much the School Board spends on legal representation, despite the fact that without representation the Board would lose legal battles launched by the likes of Anthony Petrosino. But, as I expect Raia has explained to him, Biancamano surely understands that this is precisely the point.

Underscoring the old school roots of Raia's slate are recent Facebook notes of support from none other than Michael Russo and Michele Russo. Michele Russo, matriarch of the Russo clan, possesses her very own list of unscrupulous dealings, just like her indicted ex-Mayor husband Anthony, and her bribe-agreeable Councilman son Michael. Now that's support that only money can buy.

Parents for Progress

Standing in stark contrast to Raia's and Garcia's slates is the Parents for Progress slate consisting of Monica Stromwall, Sharyn Angley, and Antonio Gray. All three are parents with kids in Hoboken's public schools. Stromwall was unanimously appointed to the School Board at the beginning of the year when Garcia was forced to leave the Board after winning his Assembly seat.

The Parents for Progress slate claim their interest in running for election is simply to ensure that the schools continue to improve. They've got skin in the game and they care. Having spoken briefly with the candidates I was struck by their honesty and integrity. However, I also discovered that they had no knowledge of the School Board's history of corruption. They had no idea of how hard reformers originally fought to get elected to the board, and the significance of Kids First taking a majority in 2009. They had no idea how much the schools have been cleaned up since then, how much money taxpayers have saved despite massive state cutbacks, and how much money has been directed back to school classrooms and students. 

The Next Wave

By their own admission, Stromwall, Angley and Gray are not affiliated with reform, and they most certainly aren't affiliated with any of Hoboken's corruptocrats. Instead, these three represent what I think is the next wave in Hoboken politics, the one I've sometimes daydreamed might finally come to pass. 

Like Hoboken's reformers, Parents for Progress want to make a difference in this city. They like Hoboken and they want to raise families here, not flee "To the 'Burbs" as Brian Murray urges them to do. Unlike the corruptocrats, they don't expect favors or payback but, unlike reformers, they're unaware of Hoboken's recent "good versus evil" political history. Why? Because in just a few years reformers have managed to fix things up enough that more people are choosing to stay in Hoboken longer, and corruption is beginning to fade into the past.

Choosing to stay longer has positive results for Hoboken. Families and property owners pay attention to schools, parks, and taxes and inevitably, they become politically engaged, initially as voters but sometimes even volunteering to serve their community, just as Stromwall, Angley and Gray have. This is why Hoboken's formerly disengaged electorate is beginning to take notice and start participating. And this is what it's going to take to eliminate, once and for all, the long-standing tradition of looting Hoboken's school and city coffers.

While the appearance of the Parents for Progress slate is a positive sign for Hoboken politics, I am concerned that this election will be a particularly harsh one for these political neophytes. Not only is this election guaranteed to have a low turnout, Parents for Progress is being out-campaigned by Garcia's ticket and, naturally, Raia's ticket need not rely on campaigning as they are assured of votes via other, tried and true, methods. (Word on the street is that votes are being bought for $35 this election - a little lower than usual.) So perhaps Parents for Progress will win or perhaps they will lose, but I am willing to bet that we will see more slates like Parents for Progress in School Board and City elections in the years to come. 

Hoboken's demographics keep changing. The ranks of the public schools continue to swell and, while parents still leave Hoboken for the suburbs, it's clear more are choosing to stay every year. It's well known that schools are an important factor in choosing a place to raise a family, so continuing to improve the public schools is fundamental to Hoboken's future success. For this reason be sure to vote Angley, Stromwall and Gray: 2, 3, 5 for Hoboken Board of Education on November 4th. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I Sue You!

When your only tool is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. Such as it is with Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason who is suing the City for the release of documents exchanged between the City and one of the law firms it's contracted in the past. Mason's tool of choice is the lawsuit - a great tool for depleting the resources, both time and finances, of its target. For this reason it's a terrific tool for revenge and obstruction. Of course, it's a terrible tool for carrying out the day-to-day duties of a ward councilperson. But when revenge and obstruction are all your councilperson is interested in, then that's what ward residents have to settle for. For the record, let's take a brief look at Councilwoman Mason's history of lawsuits against Hoboken and its residents.

Most recently, there is the aforementioned lawsuit against the City of Hoboken that some believe is tied to politically motivated attacks against recently re-elected Hoboken Councilman-at-Large Ravi Bhalla.

There is also the lawsuit filed against Hoboken  Councilpersons Bhalla, Cunningham, Giattino and Mello that prevented newly elected Councilman Jim Doyle from serving as interim Councilman after Councilwoman Carol Marsh resigned in October 2012. This lawsuit blocked a reform majority on City Council allowing Mason and her fellow Council plaintiffs to obstruct city progress for more than a year.

Then there is the sordid SLAPP-suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) filed against two dozen Hoboken bloggers in August 2012. While Mason's name is not on the complaint, the names of two of her closest supporters are. More damning though is that Councilwoman Mason publicly disclosed the lawsuit's existence prior to its receipt by the targeted bloggers. Needless to say, the bloggers were not, and are not, Mason cheerleaders.

Prior to Councilwoman Mason's failed attempts for election as Mayor in 2008 and 2009, Mason filed at leasteleven lawsuits against the city, the school board and the city's now defunct hospital board. Back then, these actions may have been viewed as heroic attempts to shine light on possible corruption. But, as I've written about elsewhere, in light of Mason's behavior after losing these elections, all her actions are now suspect.

In 2008, the New York Times estimated that Mason's lawsuits cost the city about $200,000. Just imagine the total cost to her constituents, our city's bloggers, and the city to date.

I Sue You! from Greg Bond on Vimeo.