Newark Board of Education election 2024 winners raised $63,500 in contributions, campaign reports show

A street pole covered in candidate signs on a sidewalk in front of a red brick building.
Campaign fundraising for the April 16 Newark Board of Education election came solely from the politically-backed slate of four candidates, Kanileah Anderson, Dawn Haynes, Vereliz Santana, and Helena Vinhas. (Jessie Gómez / Chalkbeat)

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The Moving Newark Schools Forward slate, winners of the city’s school board election last month, raised roughly $63,500 from a mixed bag of donors, including local party committees, unions, and businesses benefitting from district contracts, recent disclosure reports with the state’s election watchdog show.

Those disclosure reports, which had to be filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission by the May 6 post-election deadline, are required for campaign donations of $200 or more and spending of at least $5,800.

Campaign fundraising in this election cycle came solely from that politically-backed slate of four candidates, which has won every election since 2016. Meanwhile, no contributions were reported this year by any of the other six rival candidates, according to the ELEC website.

“When it comes down to it, experience matters — the experience of the people who are backing this slate,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “They’re not starting from scratch and they’re not starting from the position of: How do you do this?”

Even though fundraising this year took a slight dip for that dominating slate, which has typically garnered closer to $100,000 or more in recent past elections, it did not result in setting back those candidates who had the advantage of support from well-established politicians.

Newcomer candidates on the slate, Kanileah Anderson and Helena Vinhas, who were appointed in January and secured their seats at the polls on April 16, were the top fundraisers in the race, an analysis of the disclosure documents showed. Vinhas reeled in $29,600 and Anderson received $13,046. Board co-vice president Vereliz Santana, who’s been on the board since 2021, raised $11,650 and board member Dawn Haynes, who secured her third term, raised $9,194.

The roster of elected officials who contributed to the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate are all top-ranking politicians in the state and city.

Those elected leaders, including Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, state Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, city Council President LaMonica McIver, and Councilman Michael Silva, among others, gave a collective $13,000 to the slate candidates.

Local businesses with district contracts add money to the race

More than $10,000 in support for the winning slate came from various businesses throughout the state and city, including about $1,500 from businesses that have either current or past contracts with the Newark Board of Education.

Funding to campaigns from public contractors rose last year after a new law, the Elections Transparency Act, increased contribution limits for all reporting entities, a recent analysis from ELEC found.

Public contractors helping to fuel this year’s school board race included JCT Solutions, a security and communications contractor that donated $250 to Santana’s campaign. Since 2018, JCT Solutions has had $609,119 worth of contracts with the Newark Board of Education for services related to “telephone, cameras, door security, [and] network,” according to disclosure documents.

Antonelli Kantor Rivera, who runs a law firm in his name in Livingston, also contributed $500 to Santana’s campaign. Rivera had $3 million in contracts statewide in 2023, including one with city schools for $133,000 for legal services, the reports showed.

Alamo Insurance Group, a North Bergen firm, gave Vinhas $250. The firm had a contract with the district in 2022 for $306,000 to do health benefits consulting.

Another law firm, Souder, Shabazz, and Woolridge Law Group, gave $500 to Haynes. That firm is representing two school board members who are facing ethics complaint charges from last year.

Unions also gave the winning slate financial support, which included $2,500 from the Newark Teachers Union and $1,000 from the Heavy and General Construction Laborers Union Local 472.

There was also $3,250 in total contributions from employees who work in various roles throughout the district.

On the spending side, the winning slate spent a total of about $36,600, the disclosure reports outlined, with payments going mostly toward printing campaign flyers and other promotional materials and consulting services.

Rasmussen, an adjunct professor of political science at Rider, said mailers and other promotional activities ahead of election day drum up momentum from supporters to head to the polls. Turnout remained low in this year’s election at under 3% for the third year in a row, but those who did set out to vote overwhelmingly supported the slate.

“Campaign spending gets a bad name, but voter contact and voter education are really important,” Rasmussen said.

Why was there a dip in fundraising?

One possible explanation for the modest dip in coffers is the absence of the Great Schools for All political action committee, which had fueled campaign fundraising for the slate for years.

A search on the state election watchdog site didn’t find contributions from that PAC in this year’s race. However, Barbara Martinez, who now leads that organization after a departure from the former chief, said in an email on Thursday that Great Schools continued showing its support in this year’s race.

“Great Schools for All was very pleased to support the slate of Moving Newark Schools Forward,” Martinez said in an emailed statement. A follow-up request for clarification on funding disclosure documents was not immediately answered as of publication.

Here’s a rundown of how much candidates reported raising and spending in the race, according to disclosure reports.

Kanileah Anderson

Total raised: $13,046

Total spent: $9,925

Notable donors: Team Baraka, $2,500; Newark Council President LaMonica McIver, $1,000; retired educator Kathleen Witcher, $1,200; Active PAC, $500; the South Ward Democratic Committee, $300; and two Newark school board employees, $500.

Dawn Haynes

Total raised: $9,194

Total spent: $0

Notable donors: Team Baraka, $2,500; city council members Dupre Kelly, C. Lawrence Crump, and Louise Scott Rountree, a total of $700; Active PAC, $500; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68, $500; the Newark Teachers Union, $500; committee to reelect Wayne Richardson, $500; the South Ward Democratic Committee, $300; two Newark Board of Education employees gave $500 total; the Souder, Shabazz, and Woolridge Law Group, $500.

Vereliz Santana

Total raised: $11,650

Total spent: $0

Notable donors: Nine district employees gave a total of $2,250. Committee to reelect M. Teresa Ruiz, $1,000; the Newark Teachers Union, $1,000; the Hispanic Law Enforcement Society of Essex County, $1,000; the committee supporting Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo’s reelection, $500; the Newark East Ward Democratic Committee, $250; and Allied Risk Management Services, a security and technology company, $1,000.

Helena Vinhas

Total raised: $29,600

Total spent: $26,684

Notable donors: Committee to reelect Eliana Pintor Marin, $1,000; committee to reelect Michael J. Silva, $1,000; the East Ward Democratic Committee, $250; The Newark Teachers Union, $1,000; the Heavy and General Construction Laborers Union Local 472, $1,000; the Newark Firefighters Union, $500; and Citi Bay Builders, $1,000.

Catherine Carrera is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Newark. Contact Catherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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