Just My Analysis...Power Shifts On the Clifton Board of Education
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The 2023 General Election has shocked many. While we’re all well aware of the Pino vs. Clifton and Passaic County Democrats race, and the annual Republican versus Democrats race at the county level, major shifts have been made at School 6- the Clifton Board of Education building.
If we look back to January 2023 at the re-organization meeting of the board, Clifton saw long-time board member Jim Smith voted in as president. Smith has undoubtedly been a major powerbroker on the board, which has seemed to have developed factions. The Smith faction, versus the Bassford (Judith Bassford) faction. Time and time again throughout the years, these parties have battled it out over speaking time during meetings, privileges concerning the use of the board attorney, unsportsmanlike conduct during election season, and most recently social media controversy- it’s never been good. Smith for the past two years has relied especially on an ally of his, Fahim Abedrabbo. Abedrabbo is no friend of the Bassford faction. These two are even better! Ethics charges, lawsuits, cease and desist letters…you get the point.
In 2022, Abedrabbo supported the successful effort in electing Smith president of the board and even nominated Jim Daley, who would go on to serve as Smith’s vice president. One of the last, but much more quiet members of the Smith faction, has been Dr. Lucy Danny. She of course has supported Smith’s presidency over the past years and even served as the vice president for the 2023 board. You may have forgotten about Commissioner Feras Awwad, who quite literally has been absent from the regular meetings for months…but he too was a member of the Smith faction. With Joe Canova and Dana Beltran no longer on the Board during 2023, Bassford did not have it easy. Now despite this, Commissioners Anthony Santiago and Alan Paris seem to maintain a good relationship with everyone.
Up for re-election on November 7, 2023, were board president Jim Smith and Fahim Abedrabbo. Feras Awwad decided not to run for re-election (thankfully). The ballot included names like former commissioner Joe Canova, who was hoping to get a seat back on the board. Joseph Siano, a popular local realtor who is very active with local organizations, Tanya Suarez, someone new to the Clifton politics realm who has lots of experience in social work and education, and Juan Pabon….well I’m honestly not sure. And finally, Cameron Hebron- a young, enthusiastic young adult who also is new to the Clifton political realm.
You may be wondering, where is Richie Mejia in all of this? Mejia is one of the newer, and youngest commissioners on the board. He shocked many with his performance in the last election and has been rather active on social media. Two eye-catching endorsements were made during the election process. One from Mejia, and another from Judy Bassford. Mejia created three social media posts endorsing: Jim Smith, Fahim Abedrabbo, and Juan Pabon. He urged voters to support these three citing their history in “keeping the students, teachers, paraprofessionals, and our district the priority!” or their, “Pride in our school district. Especially when making sure our students get the best education possible…” or finally their campaign emphasizing, “...healthier lifestyles through extracurricular activities and responsible fiscal management.” Mejia’s endorsement of Jim Smith and Fahim Abedrabbo arguably indicates his standing membership within the Smith faction.
But on the other side of the aisle is a completely different set of endorsements. Judy Bassford urged Clifton to place their trust in “1-4-7.” These were the ballot positions of Tanya Suarez, Joseph Siano, and Joe Canova. I am not shocked by these endorsements. Mejia analyzed the battleground and chose to put his eggs in the basket of the incumbents (the Smith faction). Maybe he assumed they’d easily win due to their longevity on the board and wanted to stay in the good graces of the faction if they won. Or, to think about it less cynically, maybe Mejia genuinely believed in the record of these commissioners and pledged his support. We do not know. However, whatever the plan was, Clifton did not agree.
On the morning of November 8, 2023, citizens woke up to see that “1-4-7” were all elected to the board. Incumbents gone, Smith faction dismantled, and Judy Bassford with more than enough allies. If you ask me, the Bassford faction has won. I cannot help but think that they are rejoicing. Both of the primary enemies- gone from the board, both trailing Siano, Suarez, and Canova.
Allow me to make clear, that this OPINION piece is not meant to express support, or condemn anyone mentioned. As a person active and knowledgeable of the workings of the board, this is an analysis of how I’ve seen things play out over the past two years. My intent is to bring to light how I’ve viewed this shift of power.
So now what? What is left for the former members of the Smith faction? More importantly, who will be the next president? Only time will tell, until next time.