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VOTER GUIDE: Five Seek Office in First-Ever School Board Election

Establishment Candidates Were Missing in Action, Unresponsive to All Communication
School Board Election Yard Sign
A makeshift sign produced by Unity Square hopes to remind voters of their historic opportunity today. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Today, city voters will, for the first time in history, select candidates to serve on the New Brunswick Board of Education.  Polling places across the city are open for the special election from 7am to 9pm.

Prospective candidates were forced to choose between two open seats on the board, one that will last two years and another that will only last one.  This unique situation led most candidates to pair off and run in teams.

After Rev. Antonio Finney dropped out of the race to support an opponent, former board member Martin Arocho was left on his own, against the remaining two teams.

Based on an analysis of campaign literature, all of the five remaining candidates heavily played up their qualifications but largely declined to give details on what policies they would support if elected.  We did our best to analyze the available information and present it to you in an easy-to-digest fashion.

NewBrunswickToday.com was able to catch up with three of the five remaining candidates via email and telephone.  But, Ron Hush and Diana Fajardo, whose candidacies are clearly supported by those currently in power proved to be nearly impossible to track down.

Even the city's primary newspaper, the Home News Tribune, was forced to say that Hush and Fajardo were "unavailable for comment" in their only article about the historic election.

Hush and Fajardo's petitions to run were submitted and accepted after the announced deadline last month, a controversy that we first reported last Thursday.  In the course of our investigation, multiple written requests for comment were left behind at the addresses where Hush and Fajardo claimed to reside.

But the candidates never answered when we knocked on the doors to their supposed residences, and our written and electronic communication went unanswered.

A Spanish-speaking woman who answered the door at Fajardo's home seemed to say that the candidate no longer lived there last week.  (UPDATE @ 1:13pm: Ms. Fajardo was reached via telephone and told us that she moved two blocks away, but remains a resident of Remsen Avenue in New Brunswick)

Attempts to reach the chair of a new organization that cropped up to support Hush and Fajardo also proved unsuccessful.

Additionally, NewBrunswickToday.com asked several of Hush and Fajardo's supporters to tell the candidates to contact us over the past several weeks, another strategy that proved fruitless.

For these reasons, this voter guide may not include the full story on these mysterious candidates.

Please share this article with your friends, family and neighbors and make sure that you vote today!

Below is a list of polling places in the city.  All are open from 7am to 9pm:

  • First Reformed Church, 9 Bayard Street
  • Hungarian Heritage Center, 300 Somerset Street
  • Labor Education Center, 50 Labor Center Way
  • Lincoln School, 66 Bartlett Street
  • Lord Stirling School (use George St. entrance), 100 Redmond Street
  • New Brunswick Board of Education Gymnasium, 268 Baldwin Street
  • New Brunswick Middle School (formerly New Brunswick High School), 1125 Livingston Avenue
  • Providence Square Senior Housing Complex, 217 Somerset Street
  • Public Works Garage, 400 Jersey Avenue
  • Robeson & Schwartz Community Center, 7 Van Dyke Avenue
  • Roosevelt School, 83 Livingston Avenue
  • Senior Citizens Resource Center, 81 Huntington Street
  • St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church CYO Gymnasium, 190 Sandford Street
  • Woodrow Wilson School, 133 Tunison Road

Voters who wish to confirm their registration or pin down their exact polling location can use this link or send a text message to 877877. Anyone who goes to a polling station that was not expecting them has a right to request a provisional ballot which will be counted if your registration is valid.

NEW BRUNSWICK BOARD OF EDUCATION
CANDIDATES SEEKING A TWO-YEAR TERM
(Vote for one)

Ronald Hush [1A]

Dayjob: Mr. Hush is track & field coach for a private team based in New Brunswick called the Supersonics.

Family: It's not immediately clear whether Hush is related to the late Mary Hush, one of the last Presidents of the New Brunswick Homes Resident's Council, an organization that represented the largest housing projects in the city before they were demolished over a decade ago.

It's also unclear whether Mr. Hush has any children or, if he does, whether they attend the city's public schools.

Home: According to his petition to run for office, Hush's official residence is 144 New Street, immediately next to the city's downtown.  The home, which features his last name on one of two mailboxes, is owned by Alley Management Inc., a management company owned by local attorney Alice Devoe.

Motivation: "At the core of my efforts is the desire to prepare youth to face upcoming challenges to surpass previous generations on their journey to adulthood," Mr. Hush wrote in response to a question from the commmunity group Unity Square.

"I believe our children are the most important 'Gem' of our existence in America, and as a gem is precious so are our children."

Qualifications: According to Mr. Hush's campaign literature, he is a "decorated" veteran of the United States Marine Corps with "over 20 years experience" coaching track & field.  The literature also cites Hush's service on the Citizens Recreation Committee, a volunteer group appointed by the city's mayor that met twice last year to discuss recreation.

Hush has been a track & field coach at two different private schools in Middlesex County: St. Peter's in New Brunswick and Bishop Ahr in Edison.  Hush's campaign materials note that he still holds two records for track & field events he participated in as a student at New Brunswick High School.

Supporters: Mr. Hush is supported by the New Brunswick political establishment.  He did not circulate his own petitions to run for office.  Instead, they were circulated by powerful political leaders including City Councilman Glen Fleming.

Hush's petitions were notarized by Mayor James Cahill's secretary, Clairbel Azcona-Barber.  Among those who signed them were Edward Spencer and Benito Ortiz, two mayorally-appointed members of the school board.

A new political committee called "New Beginnings for New Brunswick Schools" is also funding Hush's candidacy.  Where the group came from, or where they get their money, remains a mystery, as no documents are on file with the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The group's Facebook page only has 10 "likes."  Two questions submitted to the page, including one from the author of this article, went unanswered.

"We are just here to support individuals who want to run for the board that we believe will be a benefit to the board," Carrington told the Home News Tribune.

Policies: In response to a candidate questionnaire created by Unity Square, a community group associated with New Brunswick's Sacred Heart Church, Mr. Hush said his first priority would be to "acclimate [himself] to the duties, policies, and procedures as mandated by the Department of Education and the New Brunswick Board of Education."

Hush's other stated priorities are "to sustain a safe environment for New Brunswick students that are conducive to learning" and to "serve as an advocate for New Brunswick families and youth who seek to use a quality education as a platform to success."

Like his running mate, Hush is running on a message of "New Beginnings" and the following four platform points:

  • A RESPONSIVE school board that listens to our residents and takes action
  • The BEST EDUCATION at the best cost
  • Encouraging PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
  • Deliver POSITIVE PROGRAMS for kids

View Mr. Hush's full response to a questionnaire from the Unity Square organization.

Martin Arocho [2A]

Dayjob: Mr. Arocho, who suffers from back problems, is currently receiving a disability pension from his prior job as a housing inspector for the City of New Brunswick.

Family: Mr. Arocho's wife Irma Sandoval-Arocho is an employee of the school district, and earns $83,900 per year according to MyCentralJersey.com's DataUniverse.

According to his campaign flyer, Arocho's "three eldest children, all outstanding students, completed their education in New Brunswick’s public schools."  Arocho's youngest children currently attend public school as well. 

Home: Mr. Arocho lives at 8 Dewey Drive, in the Dewey Heights neighborhood.  He and his wife Irma have owned the home since 2009.

Motivation: "Our school leadership needs to be assessed to ensure that administrators are not just highly qualified but also committed to truly working with our community of students," Mr. Arocho recently told the Home News Tribune.

Qualifications: Mr. Arocho is the only candidate in this election who has already served as a member of the mayor-appointed school board, from 1994 to 2003, including a stint as the board president.  Arocho went on to serve as a city housing inspector and also led the city’s Municipal Workers Union.

According to his campaign literature, Arocho has "an impressive history of civic and community involvement which began as President of the Roosevelt School PTO."  He also "has enjoyed volunteering in the past as a little league baseball and soccer coach and with the Catholic church through the Knights of Columbus," according to the flier.

Supporters: Mr. Arocho is backed by former mayor candidate Patricia Bombelyn.  In the 2010 Democratic party primary, Arocho unsuccessfully sought a city council seat on Bombelyn's ticket.

Four days ago, Bombelyn posted an endorsement of Arocho on her Facebook page: "Martin has the courage that is necessary to ensure that the interests of children come first, and he knows that successful outcomes are the best and most valid measure of good schools."

Arocho has a campaign Facebook page that currently has 26 "likes," but has not used it to communicate with any users or the public.

Policies: Of all the candidates, Mr. Arocho is the least specific about what policies he would support as a board member.  "Martín believes in public education but understands that much needs to be revamped to make it the best," is the only substantive policy statement on his four-paragraph flier.

Arocho was also the only candidate that did not respond to the candidate questionnaire published by Unity Square.

Jerry Mercado [3A]

Dayjob: Mr. Mercado is a Territory Manager with United Healthcare.

Family: Mr. Mercado's wife Ana currently works for the school district, earning $52,168 annually according to MyCentralJersey.com's DataUniverse.  His three children attend New Brunswick public schools.

Home: Mr. Mercado lives at 69 Pennington Road in the Rutgers Village neighborhood.  He and his wife have owned the home since 1999.

Motivation: "As parent and taxpayer, I see the need for better oversight because most of our schools in New Brunswick have students with low test scores compared to other students in NJ. We also have a low (56%) graduation rate in the high school," Mr. Mercado said in response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire.

"My taxes increase and I don’t see an increase in the performance of our schools."

Qualifications: According to his campaign literature, Mr. Mercado "advocated for a program of mandatory school uniforms for students in New Brunswick" and currently serves as the president of the New Brunswick Little League, an organization he founded.

Mercado also served on the city's Zoning Board for eight years and the Housing Authority Board for five years, where he "created a scholarship program for public housing residents," according to the campaign flier.

He is a graduate of Rutgers University's School of Engineering and the John J. Heldrich Institute for Leadership and Development.

Supporters: Mr. Mercado, who has run unsuccessfully twice for city council in 2006 and 2008, now enjoys the backing of much of the movement that supported the switch to an elected board, including the New Brunswick for Elected School Board Committee and its chairwoman Yolonda Baker.

"We are only concerned with the children of New Brunswick and their right to a quality education. This is about whom will best represent the children’s interests and put the children first," said Baker, who also serves as a Democratic Committeewoman in her neighborhood.

"Both Jerry and Cedrick have been involved in the city for a very long time and both have experience with the school system," she said.

Policies: In response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire, Mr. Mercado said his top priorities were to "help increase parent participation, evaluate all programs and their funding to make sure we are getting our money’s worth, and find best practices to become a higher performing school system."

Mercado's campaign fliers eschewed concrete platform points in favor of buzzwords, though it does offer one substantive policy position: "televise all school board meetings."

Mercado's other platform points are as follows:

  • Students' First
  • Education Reform
  • Parent/Community Involvement
  • Transparency
  • Fiscal Accountability
  • Students' Successful Outcomes
  • Quality Education
  • Safe and Conducive Environment

View Mr. Mercado's full response to a questionnaire from the Unity Square organization.

**********

NEW BRUNSWICK BOARD OF EDUCATION
CANDIDATES SEEKING A ONE-YEAR TERM
(Vote for one)

Cedrick Goodman [4A]

Dayjob: According to Mr. Goodman's website he is a professional speaker, entrepreneur, trainer, and consultant.  More specifically, it also says he is "an Author, Motivational Speaker, Community Activist and Real Estate Consultant."

"He is the Program Director and Founder of Yack & Associates, LLC a Personal Development and Real Estate Consulting Company."

Family: Mr. Goodman lives with his mother, whom he cares for in the home he grew up in.  He is unmarried and does not have children.

Home: Mr. Goodman has shared ownership of his mother's home since 1990.  The home is located at 29 Joyce Kilmer Avenue, just outside of the city's downtown.

Motivation: "As a tax payer and lifelong resident born and raised in the City of New Brunswick and graduate of the New Brunswick school system, I know first-hand the impact of obtaining a good quality education." Mr. Goodman said in response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire.

"I see the need for a better system of oversight and fiscal accountability that could help improve in program areas that remain unproductive and help address those deficiencies for our students."

Qualifications: Mr. Goodman ran for and won a seat on the city's Democratic Committee in 2009, and ran unopposed in 2011 to remain in the neighborhood-level position.

A graduate of New Brunswick's public schools, Goodman lists two academic institutions on his campaign literature, though he does not specify whether he earned degrees from them.  They include Middlesex County Community College and the Life University School of Chiropractic in Marietta, Georgia.

He is also a graduate of the John J. Heldrich Institute for Leadership and Development.

Goodman's campaign fliers also say that his efforts helped to avert the layoffs of 30 para-professionals working in the district.  The literature also claims that Goodman advocated against school bullying as well as "to place slow street signs around Roosevelt Intermediate School to slow down speeders to prevent accidents and to protect our school children."

Supporters: Mr. Goodman's campaign is backed by much of the movement that supported the switch to an elected board, including the New Brunswick for Elected School Board Committee and its chairwoman Yolonda Baker.

"We are only concerned with the children of New Brunswick and their right to a quality education. This is about whom will best represent the children’s interests and put the children first," said Baker, who also serves as a Democratic Committeewoman in her neighborhood.

"Both Jerry and Cedrick have been involved in the city for a very long time and both have experience with the school system," she said.

Policies: In response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire, Mr. Goodman said his top priority would be "to evaluate all current program services and funding to determine what areas are in need of improvement or re-evaluation of their affectability."

"I would like to develop a system of fiscal oversight, accountability and better parent participation; improve relations between administrators and parents and develop a more welcomed environment at all school board meetings to improve parent participation; and seek out ways to reduce government waste," he continued.

Goodman's campaign fliers eschewed concrete platform points in favor of buzzwords, though it does offer one substantive policy position: "televise all school board meetings."  Goodman's other platform points are as follows:

  • Students' First
  • Education Reform
  • Parent/Community Involvement
  • Transparency
  • Fiscal Accountability
  • Students' Successful Outcomes
  • Quality Education
  • Safe and Conducive Environment

View Mr. Goodman's full response to a questionnaire from the Unity Square organization.

Antonio Finney [5A]

Rev. Antonio Finney, who briefly ran as a team with Martin Arocho, dropped out of the race to support Mr. Goodman.  His name still appears on the ballot because he missed a four-day window to remove his name.

Diana Fajardo [6A]

Dayjob: It is unclear whether Ms. Fajardo is currently employed.  Her campaign literature says in the past tense that "Diana provided safe, positive learning experiences for our kids as a para-professional at [Puerto Rican Action Board.]"

Family: Fajardo has at least one child in the city's public school system, and is active in the parent-teacher organization at the Lord Stirling Elementary School.

Home: One week ago, a woman who answered the door at the address Ms. Fajardo listed on her petitions, indicated that the candidate no longer lived there.  Ms. Fajarado confirmed today via telephone that she moved to a new address on Remsen Avenue in New Brunswick, just two blocks from the address listed on her candidate petitions.  

Motivation: "I am extremely motivated to become a member of the Board of Education because I enjoy having an active role in not just the education of my child, but of all the students of the city," Ms. Fajardo wrote in response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire.

"Being able to actually make a difference in the way our children are educated by listening to the real concerns of fellow parents and residents prompts me to become more involved."

Qualifications: According to Ms. Fajardo's campaign literature, she has been "the voice of our parents and children as President of the Lord Stirling school PTO."

The flier also says that Ms. Fajardo graduated in the top 10% of her class at New Brunswick High School and studied early childhood education at Rutgers University.

In November 2011, she attended a board of education meeting and spoke up about a rash of gun violence in her neighborhood.  She also raised concerns about the parent-teacher organization that she would later become a leader in.

"Ms. Fajardo said that the Lord Stirling PTO is dysfunctional and said she has a petition for the Vice President to step down.  She has concerns about their leadership and how the money is being spent," read the minutes of the meeting.

Supporters: Mr. Fajardo is supported by the New Brunswick political establishment.  She did not circulate her own petitions to run for office.  Instead, they were circulated by members of the city's Democratic Committee and other municipal officials.

Fajardo's petitions were notarized by Mayor James Cahill's secretary, Clairbel Azcona-Barber.  Among those who signed them were Edward Spencer and Benito Ortiz, two mayorally-appointed members of the school board.

A new political committee called "New Beginnings for New Brunswick Schools" is also funding Fajardo's candidacy.  Where the group came from, or where they get their money, remains a mystery, as no documents are on file with the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The group's Facebook page only has 10 "likes."  Two questions submitted to the page, including one from the author of this article, went unanswered.

"We are just here to support individuals who want to run for the board that we believe will be a benefit to the board," Carrington told the Home News Tribune.

Policies: In response to the Unity Square candidate questionnaire, Ms. Fajardo said her first two priorities were "the children" and "having more parent involvement."

Like her running mate, Fajardo is running on a message of "New Beginnings" and the following four platform points.

  • A RESPONSIVE school board that listens to our residents and takes action
  • The BEST EDUCATION at the best cost
  • Encouraging PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
  • Deliver POSITIVE PROGRAMS for kids

View Ms. Fajardo's full response to a questionnaire from the Unity Square organization.

**********

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