Three Moms with Fulop's Endorsement Beat Candidates Backed by Union and Healy to Sweep School Board Election

April 18, 2012

A retired teacher who once served as Jersey City’s interim mayor, a financial analyst and an engineer, all of them moms backed by Ward E Councilman and 2013 mayoral candidate Steve Fulop, won the seats available in yesterday’s Board of Education election.

Marilyn Roman, the 76-year-old former teacher and onetime mayor, placed first in the race with 4,202 votes. Vidya Gangadin, a financial analyst and Ward A resident, received 3,975 votes, and Sangeeta Ranade, an engineer with a focus on energy efficiency who lives Downtown, 3,536; all ran under the umbrella of Parents for Progress, a new committee formed for this election.

The candidates backed by incumbent Mayor Jerramiah Healy and the powerful Jersey City teacher’s union – teacher Gerald Lyons, former city Recreation Department employee Frank Lorenzo and current city Department of Public Works employee Amanda Khan – came in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Observers said they were impressed by this year’s crop of candidates, which also included city police detective DeJon Morris and local activist Jayson Burg.

A race that determines who will help choose the city’s next superintendent of schools and watch over a budget larger than the city’s was decided in just 20,600 votes, the number tallied by the Hudson County Board of Elections with nearly 97 percent of precincts reporting. Voting problems were reported throughout the day, mostly in Wards E and F, whose boundaries have changed due to redistricting.

Parents for Progress had a strong get-out-the-vote effort, with volunteers dispatched to polling places around the city and handing out fliers.

“I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support, your determination to go out there every single day knowing that you are… putting yourself and ourself out there,” Gangadin said to a crowd of at least 120 supporters at Downtown bar-restaurant LITM after watching returns come in with Fulop, Ranade and Roman at the councilman’s campaign headquarters. “You believe in us and trust me, we will do a great job on that board.”

“We are parents,” she went on. “We aren’t just going to be any board members. We are for our children, the future of Jersey City.”

The crowd had erupted in cheers and whistles when the women got together to address them. Roman, in thanking the slate’s numerous volunteers, said, “You were the most selfless and busy people I’ve seen in a long time and I’m happy to be associated with you” – and that because she’s been in politics, she knows. A former freeholder, Roman served as interim mayor for six months in 1992 after the resignation of Gerald McCann.

Gangadin ran unsuccessfully last year. She did not receive Fulop’s endorsement then, which was a golden touch for board members last year.

This year, Fulop’s detractors said he wouldn’t sweep without the support of the union, which he had the last time around. But they were wrong.

“I’m so thrilled about the quality of these candidates,” Ellen Simon, co-founder of Parents for Progress, said of the winners. “I hope they’ll be able to work with the sitting board members to do what’s right for all the children of Jersey City.”

Many saw the victory as a bellwether of the 2013 mayor’s race, which will match Healy and Fulop, the only two declared candidates so far.

“Fulop might as well have been on the ballot today,” local activist Shelley Skinner said at the bar. “It’s a big victory for him and all the volunteers.”

While the Parents for Progress candidates celebrated, Khan, Lyons and a small group of supporters watched returns come in at an office on Liberty Avenue before heading to Brennan’s Pub nearby.

Though she competed against the Fulop-endorsed slate, Khan said she was not running against the councilman. “My campaign was on behalf of the children of Jersey City,” she told JCI. She pledged to stay active, continuing to attend meetings and monitor the board’s actions.

Arnold B. Williams, a city businessman and Fulop critic who founded the Black and Latino Coalition of New Jersey, said that Fulop’s support might not be as strong as it appeared.

“If you look at the results, turnout was much lower for Mr. Fulop’s candidates this year than last year, so there was clearly less enthusiasm for his candidates,” said Williams, who is concerned that a board heavily influenced by Fulop could take the district on a path to privatize many of its functions.

“And even though his candidates benefited from the low turnout,” he added, “I still think it’s vitally important to keep the school elections separate from November and hope Mr. Fulop will come around and agree.” (The district had the option of moving the election to November but declined to do so.)

The Parents for Progress candidates led from the start as results started to come in.

The victory caps off a series of wins by Fulop that continue to quiet critics, and the councilman last night referenced the rounds of nay-saying that have followed each one. Seven years ago, he recalled, critics said he only won his council seat because of the “high-rises on the waterfront.” Four years later, they again pointed out he was only winning a small portion of the city. Then, with the Board of Education candidates he endorsed last year winning, detractors said it was because of the union, not a grassroots effort.

“We are doing this in record numbers without anything that anybody thinks that the political structure should be about,” said Fulop, who endorsed winning candidates in 2010 and 2011. “We’re doing it without patrons, we’re doing it without jobs, we’re doing it without promises. We’re doing it just saying that we’re going to work to make the city better than it is today.”

Fulop told JCI education would be the backbone of his mayoral campaign.

“Having people on the Board of Education who are progressive, smart and looking at ways to make a model city on the education front is what’s important,” he said. All the board members, old and new, will now have had Fulop’s support at one time or another.

This is the second time in five months that candidates endorsed by Mayor Jerramiah Healy were defeated. Late last year council members Kalimah Ahamad and Ray Velazquez lost their appointed positions in November’s special election for their At-Large Council seats, one of which was won by Rolando Lavarro, who supported the Parents for Progress candidates and spoke at last night’s gathering at LITM.