Statement on Montclair’s debut BOE election

Wow! Thank you Montclair for for joining us coming out to vote in yesterday’s first-ever board of education election in Montclair.

Last year this group spearheaded a successful referendum effort to have the Township join the 98% of other municipalities in the state with elected rather than appointed school boards. After the referendum’s passage—with more votes than any local cause or candidate in recent Township history—we felt it was important not to walk away, and instead to help ensure that in the first BOE election there was a minimum of two viable candidates free from any financial or patronage conflicts, and who were laser-focused on the needs of our students.

We did so with the help of a nine-member advisory committee drawn from around the community, and a modest campaign to support two candidates, matching the $613.09 the candidates’ families jointly spent on yard signs with $623.57 in Facebook ads, much of which was designed to increase awareness of the election itself (and neatly corresponded with the $627.29 raised by Vote Montclair since the referendum). But in addition to this $311.78 per candidate there were also many hours of coordinating, outreach, tech-fiddling and other work, all of it 100% unpaid. Some have claimed that the role Vote Montclair played in this election made it a “machine,” but machines are run by people who are in the business of government and elections, rather than volunteers motivated only by a desire to elect people they agree with, and trust.

In addition to helping win the election of two excellent candidates, this effort served another purpose: To demonstrate that successful campaigns even for local office require some form of collective action. If elections are going to be won by candidates who are regular citizens, they need to be surrounded and backed by other members of the community—especially in places like Montclair and Essex County, where politics is a major industry.

But at least for the next BOE election, Vote Montclair will not be again playing the role of campaign manager. Instead, the group will be pivoting back to the issues of local voting rights and participation and government accountability, not least the unfinished business of municipal election date reform. That said, we will be around to help voters and citizen candidates navigate some of the necessary and unnecessary complexity of local elections in New Jersey. And we would start now by saying that anyone who is considering running for one of the three BOE seats opening in November should get to work now, especially if you want to run digital advertising (verification is a nightmare!)

Finally, we’d like to offer a special thanks and congratulations to all of the nine candidates who ran, each of whom handled themselves with dignity and aplomb, and who collectively offered the best possible vindication for our previous work to make Montclair’s Board of Education a democratically-elected body. Your willingness to take the plunge into these untested waters will pay dividends for the Township and its children for years to come, and for that every member of the community owes you thanks.

Erik D’Amato
Sergio Gonzalez
Co-Chairs, Vote Montclair

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