An update on the BOE campaign (and Vote Montclair)

With just two weeks to go before Montclair’s first election for Board of Education, voters are starting to tune in, and to ask questions of and about the various candidates, and about Vote Montclair. This is appropriate, and good. Anyone who seeks to get into the political process, as a candidate or an organization, should be as open and responsive as possible.   

While I can’t speak for any of the candidates, I can answer questions about Vote Montclair. As during the campaign for the referendum that made the upcoming election possible, there have been questions about what Vote Montclair is, who’s behind it, how it operates, and so on. In particular, there has been criticism about a line on the website’s “about” page calling the organization “a loose collective of citizens.”

But that, in truth, is exactly what is going on. Current chairman Erik D’Amato and Committee for an Elected BOE campaign co-chair Jason Sargis got the thing up and running in late 2020 (here’s a great pic of Jason with another volunteer), and the two directed last year’s elected BOE campaign until I left my seat on the BOE in April, and took a more active role. But during the entire campaign, and the parallel (and as yet unsuccessful) drive to move the Township’s municipal elections from May to November, there were many dozens of people who took part, offering advice, collecting signatures, distributing flyers, or, like Treasurer Cliff Kulwin, being available to go to the bank and deal with irritating campaign finance paperwork. None asked for credit, and none made a dime off their work. Finally, one related question we’ve gotten is, what’s with these guys working in the background for two female candidates? To which my response would be, thanks for noticing!

Following the successful BOE referendum, we reached out to the community to see what people thought Vote Montclair should do going forward. In one online questionnaire people were asked whether the group should try to cement the gains of the BOE referendum by assisting candidates who demonstrated a commitment to transparency and accountability. A solid majority said yes, in addition to listing some of the people they thought would make good candidates.

Seems like a “yes”

Then the challenge became making sure that there were at least two quality candidates vying for the open seats. Here we brought in a more formal process involving an advisory panel of individuals from the community: Diane Anglin, Debra Caplan, Christy Crawford, Kendra Johnson, Jason Sargis, Dr. Campbell B Singleton, III, Lt Tyrone Williams, Obie Miranda Woodley. They were among the official petitioners who filed to put the two candidates we decided to back on the ballot (click to see petition).

At the time this petition was filed we didn’t know if the field of candidates would be two, three or 30, and whether they would be the type of candidates likely to focus on the needs of students and families, rather than the priorities of political machines or interest groups. We just wanted to make sure there were at least two candidates that reflected our values of independence, transparency and integrity.

As for what role Vote Montclair has played in the campaign so far, the answer is not much. Certainly this is true in terms of money spent by this organization, which totals zero so far, unless you want to include use of the website and MailChimp accounts we are already paying for. (The candidates have paid for their own signs and palm cards, and any amounts we spend over the next weeks will be subject to the same detailed financial accounting as the referendum campaign.) Instead, our biggest contributions have been advice, some amateur graphic design and website work, and connections with regular voters, including those who wrote in after we solicited questions in an email blast.

Given the number of seemingly independent candidates in the race, this involvement will remain minimal, and in the future it is likely that Vote Montclair can return to focusing on advocacy for better government in the Township, rather than backing specific candidates in elections. But we should also all be mindful that in a large field, machine-favored candidates can have a natural advantage. And just because a candidate claims they are “independent” doesn’t mean they actually are.

I believe Vote Montclair’s record of transparency and responsiveness is solid, especially when compared to the murky business-as-usual in Montclair politics. But a group that bills itself as being about good government has to aim for a higher bar, and we will continue to.

In the meantime, I am happy to see that the change this group made possible resulting in such an outpouring of civic engagement. If you have any further questions, or want to get involved, let me know at sergio@votemontclair.org

Thanks!

Sergio Gonzalez
Co-Chair, Vote Montclair

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