Dear Jersey City, Local Elections Matter

Jersey City’s local elections matter, that’s why everyone with a vote should exercise their right tomorrow.

Downtown Jersey City

For Jersey City voters reading this, I’m not just writing about who you should vote for, but my perspective.

Part 1 will be about why Education Matters is awful to me, and why you should elect Mussab Ali, plus Matt Schapiro and Luis Fernandez of Jersey City United, to the Jersey City Board of Education (JCBOE).

Part 2 will be about who I am and why reforming the criminal justice system and school choice are personal issues to me.

PART 1

Before I begin, remember to Vote NO on moving municipal elections from May to November. If for no other reason, just look at how marginalized the JCBOE election has become with everyone’s mind on the presidential election. Now imagine the same thing every four years with the governor’s election overshadowing the mayor and council races.

As for the JCBOE, it’s real simple – The Education Matters slate of Sudhan Thomas, Angel Valentin, and Gina Verdibello are collectively awful, they’re backed by a political machine that’s been failing Jersey City, and there are other candidates with a chance to defeat them.

It also says a lot that The Jersey Journal and Real Jersey City, despite not seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, endorsed two of the same candidates. I guess when Education Matters supporters talk about going high, they must have been referencing the “attack ad with anti-Semitic undertones,” as the Jersey Journal described it.

Mussab Ali, Luis “Pastor Lipe” Fernandez and Matthew Schapiro, however imperfect, would stop the JCBOE from being completely controlled by members endorsed by the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA) – bringing much needed balance.

Mussab Ali is the independent breath of fresh air, taking on both sides, whose biggest fault is that he lacks perspective which can only be obtained through age and experience. He has developed a legitimate following among his peers, he’s smarter than most of the candidates running, and I’m confident, if elected, he would grow into a good JCBOE member (if he isn’t consumed by the political machine).

Matt Schapiro represents the much needed counterweight to the heavily anti-Lyles faction of the board (Lyons, Richardson, and Roman), because #BalanceMatters, and the dynamics of the board would be unhealthy without someone like him.

If there was a fourth choice, I would endorse Mark Rowan. He’s a good man, knowledgeable about Jersey City schools, has tons of experience, and the JCEA should’ve endorsed him. The reason I’m picking Fernandez over Rowan is because I see him as someone with a unique ability to unite communities and bring attention to unaddressed issues. See the picture below as a small piece of evidence:

fernandez-griffin-lavarro-hassidic-jews

That said, Education Matters will likely sweep because they’re backed by the political machine. It is what it is, and only Jersey City United has the resources to beat Education Matters in a typical Hudson County election – I wish I was wrong.

As for Education Matters, let’s start with Gina Verdibello. I’ll just quote Riaz Wahid, who is endorsing Sudhan Thomas:

We also can’t solve our financial problems by electing three-time failed candidate Gina Verdibello. She never spoke against abatements which don’t pay school taxes.

Yet, she complains about facilities issues and lack of funds. There was a tax increase of 2% and she was there at the budget hearing, but I wonder why she didn’t speak at all?

Before I continue, I would be remiss to not commend Verdibello on her consistent advocacy of facilities and food issues. It’s the rest of the issues which I’m concerned about.

That said, if she didn’t speak on tax abatements and the budget increase, I guess it was a smart move – otherwise Thomas might have gone high and called her a “pom pom waving cheerleader-troll” like he did Schapiro. Though, to Verdibello’s credit, I think she could tell the difference between a lawsuit and an ethics complaint.

Ironically, given a cease-and-desist letter I was sent from his lawyer, Thomas also stated in a press release that the “lawsuit” Schapiro is involved with – which is really an ethics complaint – “alone disqualifies [Schapiro] from running.”

Angel Valentin, besides misrepresenting himself as a current, instead of former, Certified Social Work, defines the “smell of politics.”

As previously noted, Valentin was removed from the JCETP after Mayor Fulop was elected, telling the Jersey Journal at the time that it “smells of politics.” Valentin is now being endorsed by Fulop for JCBOE. This is the second time he’s been endorsed by Fulop for a board seat, 2010 being the first, though, in 2013, Fulop unsuccessfully endorsed Carol Lester over him for a 1-year term to fill a vacancy after the resignation of Marvin Adames.

What’s interesting was that Joel Naatus, an esteemed Jersey City teacher, someone I personally respect for their highly-acclaimed work, spoke out about the article covering Valentin stating – “[Schapiro] claims to be a communication professional, but is it a on a part-time basis, is it based on his education, his trust fund, or his business acumen?”

I welcome the question, and for the purposes of this piece will accept his assertions as true. Yet, for someone demanding unbiased coverage, all I can ask is for him to put the hypocrisy aside. Did Naatus ever ask how many real estate transactions Verdibello worked on as a licensed agent? Did Naatus ever ask any questions about Thomas’ business and financial history?

The reason I’m saying that is because when I asked about Thomas’ issues involving evictions, judgements, and current litigation against him, all I got was threatening responses.

Also, Thomas is the same guy that blames “Republican alter egos in Jersey City” for burying a $2 billion long range facilities plan from 2005 which he seeks to “evangelize” once elected. Yet, around that same time period he was donating to Republicans, and he’s running with a guy that was on the JCBOE the majority of the time since 2005.

Can someone identify all of these “Republican alter egos”? Were any endorsed by Fulop? Is $2 billion dollars for new school construction in Jersey City really more plausible than building a wall across America’s souther border and making Mexico pay for it?

I’ll stop now, because what I write won’t make a difference against the machine, especially for Jersey City’s at-risk youth that lack the resources and support system to overcome some of the most difficult circumstances.

Part 2

The reason I care so much about this election is because the Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association (JCPSOA) endorsement of Education Matters, including the rhetoric and policies they represent collectively.

First, for those wondering, besides the legitimate public safety issue, and representing the culture of corruption that has poisoned the police-community relationship, you want to know why I care so much about Sgt. Vincent Corso continuing to police the Jersey City Police Department’s (JCPD) West District?

1. About a month after Robbinsville police took Corso into custody, Bishop William Pickett died in a tragic fire in which the fire department mistakenly went to Grand Ave. instead of Grant Ave. The teenager that Corso killed in 2000 was Michael Anglin, Bishop Pickett’s grandson. Pickett protested for justice at the time, but, because the Robbinsville story was covered-up before the tragic fire, the bishop never got another chance to speak out for justice.

There’s also that whole story that’s been told of the JCPD initially lying about how Anglin died, plus some alleged improprieties with the crime scene and investigation.

2. The big difference between Michael Anglin and myself on January 28, 2000, besides skin color and last name, was privilege and circumstance.

On January 28, 2000, I was attending Valley Forge Military Academy because I was privileged enough that my mom could afford to send me to an alternative school that fit my needs – specifically a 24/7, discipline-based environment.

Given that I grew up in a nice suburb of Bergen County, compared to Jersey City, the circumstances of my life, after attending military academy for middle school, made it essentially impossible for the worst types of decisions until I could drive a car. After I could drive a car, the potential to make bad decisions was rather limitless, and, yes, I made a lot of really bad ones in my youth (at least I can admit it, and have used my privilege to try and make a difference).

The same can’t be said for most, but not all, of the at-risk youth in places like Jersey City when it comes to privilege and circumstance.

On January 28, 2000, Michael Anglin was a 15-year-old that made a terrible decision getting in a stolen car. I’m not saying he was a perfect teenager, I didn’t know him, I just know that the environment around him, his youth, and his poor decision making shouldn’t have resulted in a death sentence from a cop with extremely questionable behavior.

Even if he lived through that incident, Anglin probably would’ve been just another child of color put into the system of mass incarceration that hasn’t been successful at rehabilitating juveniles. The same system which didn’t think his life mattered then is still in place, and there’s been little done since to create a safe space between schools and prison.

My overall point – there are certain students, regardless of race and religion, and I was definitely once one of them, with discipline issues that have never been handled, and could never be handled, by public schools. Not only are those kids being failed by keeping them in a learning environment that doesn’t work for them, they will, at times, unfairly disrupt the education of their classmates.

As a youth, public school, even a nice one in the suburbs (with more problems than advertised), could never help me reach my potential. I know the same is occurring on a much larger scale in Jersey City, and I’m guessing they can’t put every kid with behavior issues on drugs like Ritalin.

That’s why I would support the JCBOE offering a voucher program designed for kids with discipline issues from low-and-moderate-income families. It’s a reality that some kids need immediate intervention, before they fall victim to the schools-to-prison pipeline, and they shouldn’t be denied the privilege of a school that fits their needs because of their parents income.

Simply put, there’s no way, in my eyes, to immediately help at-risk youth without a voucher to pay for a school that will help them reach their potential.

So when I hear Sudhan Thomas claiming candidates wish to “voucherize” the district, without a shred of proof, not only is it personally offensive, it demonizes a concept without exploring ways it could be beneficial.

Public schools, in Jersey City, Bergen County, or elsewhere, generally can’t serve those children properly, and for the communities that have been in crisis for decades, “blaming the parents” won’t stop a system which fuels the culture of mass incarceration. Before we put Jersey City’s wayward youth in the criminal justice system and outsource them to Union County, or leave their lives to circumstance on the streets, something must be done.

On the long-term, Hudson County, not the JCBOE, should develop a community-based school that operates year round, focused on at-risk youth, hiring our nations veterans, and incorporating the idea of community leaders taking a stake in the upbringing of these children.

If you don’t think I’m serious about that, pull the public transcripts from every Hudson County Board of Freeholders meeting from the past two years.

Also, beyond vouchers, I support charter school options for parents who can’t afford a private school, that don’t want their kids in traditional district schools, and whose kids can’t pass the admissions test to a magnet school. Even though I’m skeptical of charter schools, because they provide option more than choice, at least they’re shut down when they fail – unlike some traditional district schools which have a license to fail generations of students.

Finally, despite what they may say, when a group that opposes modern school choice initiatives (JCEA), and another that represents a lot of what’s wrong with criminal justice (JCPSOA), team up, I can’t sit back and not do everything in my power to stop them.

I just hope the voters of Jersey City do the right thing tomorrow, even though it won’t make a difference regarding the issues I care about.

5 comments

  • i’m curious, michael: why mussab ali but not kimberly goycochea? on the recommendation of people i trust, i was planning on voting for both of them. my understanding is that they’re similar, and allied, but you’d know better than i would.

    • Tris – I don’t think you can go wrong with Kimberly. From watching from afar, and meeting her in person, I wonder if she could handle the weight of the political machine. I think Mussab’s personality is strong enough that, if he felt the full-court press, he would be more likely to handle his own and stick to his convictions.

  • What these Haredim from boro park along lavarro doing there?

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