Hoboken BOE Election: Different Views on Two Slates By Hoboken Councilpersons

With the Hoboken Board of Education election coming up on November 8, it wouldn’t be campaign season in the Mile Square City without controversy.  Today, two sitting Hoboken Council members, 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher each posted newsletters about the race with highly, differing opinions.

Cohen is endorsing the slate “Leadership That Listens,” comprised of Leslie Norwood, Antonio Grana and Alex de la Torre.  Fisher, on the other hand, is criticizing the LTL ticket over a mailer it sent out which was received by residents yesterday.  Councilwoman Fisher termed the mailer “partisan and slanderous” against the Kids First ticket of Donna Magen, Cindy Wiegand and Pavel Sokolov.

Here are both of the Councilpersons’ newsletters, with Councilman Cohen’s first:

Last week, Vote By Mail ballots for the November 8 General Election arrived. Neighbors have asked who I support for Hoboken Board of Education.
I am proud to endorse Leslie Norwood, Antonio Grana,andAlex De La Torre (ballot positions 2/3/4). Leslie, Antonio, and Alex are all engaged parents of students in the Hoboken Public School District whose kids attend Brandt Elementary School, Hoboken Middle School, and Hoboken High School.
  • Leslie has two children with learning differences, including one who is dyslexic. Leslie has a passion for literacy learning and teaching tools for students, most notably advocating for the well-regarded Orton-Gillingham instruction that is now being implemented widely in the District.
  • Antonio and I served 5 years together on the Hoboken Zoning Board as fellow commissioners. I saw first-hand how Antonio is thoughtful, prepared, smart and dedicated to public service.
  • Alex is a hard-working trustee on the Hoboken Board of Ed running for re-election.  Since joining the board in 2018, the graduation rate has increased to over 94%. Alex has helped implement many specialized programs such as expanding AP offerings, the Riverkeepers program for STEM and the high school’s new academic support center.
I enthusiastically support the entire Leadership that Listens slate — already endorsed by a number of district parents throughout Hoboken including district leaders at the forefront of the Board of Education’s reform over a decade ago who remain fully engaged. The Leadership that Listens slate also is certified with the Moms Demand Action Gunsense Candidates distinction.
In contrast, a slate running against the LTL team — innocuously called “Kids First” solicited and received the endorsement of the “New Jersey Project”, a radical far-right group fighting culture wars statewide through New Jersey’s November Board of Education elections — including banning books from school libraries and railing against “critical race theory” in school curriculums.
With many school boards across the country under attack by extremists, it’s troubling that the “Kids First” slate sought and earned the New Jersey Project endorsement.
I know Leslie, Antonio and Alex well — each has lived in town at least 15 years.  I know first-hand they have integrity, care deeply about our schools, and will strive to keep partisan politics off the school board. The Leadership That Listens team is the only BOE slate with all three candidates’ kids enrolled in our district schools. Leslie, Antonio, and Alex and — importantly — fully support our outstanding Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christine Johnson.
Leslie, Antonino and Alex are running as the “Leadership that Listens” slate because they are committed to lead our school district and listen to the voices of the community – including the important voices that decisively rejected the proposed $241 million school bond in January. Leslie, Antonio, and Alex will not support that same, roundly rejected proposal. They are committed to a new community process, where listening is central to inclusive planning that will take a fresh look at any high school plan, incorporating robust, meaningful community input.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to vote I-2, I-3 and I-4, for the entire Leadership That Listens team for Hoboken Board of Education on Tuesday, November 8th.
Paid For By Phil Cohen For Hoboken City Council
Here is Councilwoman Fisher’s newsletter:


October 20th, 2022
Friends and neighbors,
I was so disappointed to see the partisan, slanderous attack mailer sent by the Leaders That Listen (“LTL”) BOE slate that many Democrat’s across Hoboken received yesterday.  It was reminiscent of the partisan flyers sent out by Team Bhalla in the 2017 non-partisan mayoral race that divided our community in a way and level that it had never been before.  As I said in my newsletter last week, one of the main criteria I am personally looking for in BOE candidates are those who are less divisive.  I met with the LTL candidates Leslie Norwood, Antonio Grana and incumbent Alex De La Torre just after and discussed how important this was to me.  We need uniters, not the dividers which, contrary to what they told me, it seems these three have become.
If you didn’t see it, LTL’s attack mailer attempts to paint the competing Kids First candidates as book banning extremists by using dishonest and misleading statements.  Basically a partisan bullying piece. If you actually met Pavel, Cindy and Donna, you would know that nothing could be further from the truth.
I do not know for a fact, but if history serves me correctly from the 2017 mayoral race, those of you who are not affiliated with any political party or those who are registered as Republicans would not have received this mailer.  It’s the science of a Hoboken local election / law of numbers that I have spoken to you about before – there are more Democrats than Republicans in Hoboken so in a race with a plurality, sacrificing Republican voters could translate to getting more votes and winning.  Let that sink in.  This was the exact strategy the Bhalla campaign followed in 2017 and why Hoboken voted overwhelmingly to reinstate runoffs as a way to stave off this exact type of divisive politics.  Again, if history repeats itself, my guess is there will be at least two more fear-mongering attack mailers like these delivered just days before Election Day.
Before you continue, let me first ask you – how many of you reading this had children in school during the pandemic?  How did you feel about your children wearing masks on day one?  How about in year two?  And by year 3 leading into this school year?  If you at any time felt you didn’t want your children to wear masks, then LTL basically is saying you were wrong.
I spoke to Donna Magen yesterday, one of the three Kids First candidates, and she was in tears after seeing the bullying LTL attack mailer.  She is married, a mother of two children, one a 5 year old at Brandt, not affiliated with any political party, and never ran for office before.  She put her hand up to run for the BOE to get more involved in her children’s schools.  Certainly not to be attacked by partisan political bullies.  LTL’s attack mailer says she asked for endorsements from QAnon sponsored groups which is a lie.  Do you know what extremism she is actually guilty of?  Struggling in year 2 of the pandemic with her then 3 year old having to wear a mask to school and discussing it on a facebook group with others similarly struggling.  I reviewed ALL of her activity in that group which was only about masks.  Donna has had nothing to do with and doesn’t support QAnon or the NJ Project and she never asked for any endorsement from any group.  And just as an FYI, NJ Project is a predatory Super PAC giving out endorsements to candidates who did not want them like Kids First.  Donna is now concerned about the damage to her reputation based upon the lies that LTL made up in their attack mailer.
With Cindy Wiegand, another Kids First candidate, the LTL bullying mailer was more subtle, using facts in a way that distorts the truth – which in politics is called “paltering(the link is worth a read).  You have heard me talk about this before.  LTL’s attack mailer misleads you to believe that Cindy actively petitioned to remove all safety protocols from her children’s school during the height of COVID.  But that is not the case at all.  Three months ago, about a week before the CDC dropped most protocols for schools, her husband solicited other parents for their support for asking Hoboken Charter, where their three children attend, to loosen COVID restrictions like they were starting to see everywhere.  And the petition actually included research references and referred to the progress that had been made due to masking and vaccines.  Why wouldn’t LTL just use the real facts instead of misleading ones?
Pavel Sokolov, is the third Kids First candidate on the mailer.  He is a registered Republican and has not hid this.  Pavel has been very clear on what his position is regarding education, his support for Superintendent Dr. Johnson and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.  IMHO, he is socially progressive and fiscally conservative.  You can agree with him, or not.  You can vote for or against him because he is a Republican, or not.   But LTL’s attack mailer wants you to believe that by supporting Republican candidates at the federal level, a BOE candidate is not allowed to have his/her own views in his own community that may differ from the party platform.  And the hypocrisy?  The same LTL candidates champion other current BOE leaders and commissioners who are/were also Republicans who have voted for Republican candidates at the federal level.
Do you have an issue with this like I do?  In what is our awful two- party system, don’t we only have 2 real choices – Red or Blue – in partisan races?  And don’t we vote for candidates who are the nominees for the parties who most align with our beliefs?  For me, this has always been the Democratic party.  But do my views align 100% with the party platform?  Example… I am the product of public education and pro-public education.  But when and where our public schools fail, I support alternative forms of education – like charter schools, magnet schools and educational partnership organizations.  This is often contrary to the core Democratic platform.  I point to the City of Rochester, where I grew up in a neighboring suburb.  Rochester has the worst public schools in the state of NY with at least one high school that had a 33% graduation rate just a few years ago.  33%!  In the case of this high school, which is in the most economically depraved area of the city, the public schools were clearly not working on any measure.  The University of Rochester stepped in 7 years ago to create an EPO and has dramatically transformed the school’s culture and outcomes for the school’s students.  Graduation rates last year were up to 85%. So, I can be a Democrat, but can have views on education that don’t perfectly align with my party.
Why am I writing this today?  Because the bullying, dishonest and divisive partisan rhetoric and character assassination in our local, non-partisan elections has to stop.  And right now, the only messages out there is that this behavior is somehow ok.  And it isn’t.  And I know you agree with me.

Maybe you can, but I cannot support any candidates who think dishonest political bullying is acceptable.  Especially those who are running to set the culture for our schools.
People ask me why no one ran against Mayor Bhalla in 2021.  It is specifically because of this – the threat of being bullied and maligned publicly by a campaign team that is not afraid to use lies.  Most of us are happy to defend any truth thrown at us as candidates, but it is the well timed, comfortably dishonest mudslinging – like LTL’s bulling mailer – that makes it harder to do.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to run for office if they thought they would be subjected to these dishonest attacks and bullying?  Think about that – bullying results in uncontested races.  Where there is only one candidate, there are no debates.  Where there are no debates, there is no democracy.  Just one voice which is an autocracy. 
As always, please share this with everyone you know who may be interested and reach out any time on any issue important to you: 201-208-1764 or CouncilwomanFisher2@gmail.com.
Tiffanie Fisher
Hoboken City Council, 2nd Ward