By Margaret Koenig
Any lingering doubts about Mayor Ras Baraka's influence on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board were swept away on Tuesday night as his slate of preferred candidates, the Children First Team (CFT), won one of the last two seats not already held by slate members. Returning candidate Crystal Fonseca and newcomer Dashay Carter won election to the board for the first time while incumbent Marques-Aquil Lewis won his third consecutive term on the board—his second as part of Baraka's CFT.
The CFT candidates faced five other challengers in the election. With eight candidates seeking the three seats up for election, 2015's election was slightly below the district's average of 2.92 candidates filing per seat up for election from 2011 to 2014.
Meanwhile, Passaic Public Schools, the only other district among New Jersey's largest to hold its election in April instead of November in 2015, saw three incumbents retain their seats by defeating a sole returning challenger. Additionally, Passaic voters chose to maintain the current tax levy of $16.8 million, which had been in place for six years.
Incumbents Byron Bustos, Salim Patel and Ronald Van Rensalier won their third consecutive slate campaign together, but they faced a seasoned candidate who had previously challenged all three of them. Rene L. Griggs ran for the board in five prior elections, most recently on April 23, 2014. She faced Bustos, Patel and Van Rensalier in her 2009 campaign, when she placed sixth out of the eight candidates running for the three at-large positions in that election.
Griggs' supporters stated on Tuesday night they may challenge this year's results due to "a late surge in vote totaling that proved decisive" in her defeat. As of the unofficial numbers reported on election night, Griggs was separated from the third-highest vote recipient, Bustos, by more than 400 votes.