‘You can see me outside’ — NJ councilman taunts public at raucous meeting
JERSEY CITY — A city councilman has apologized after challenging a member of the public to a fight during a raucous meeting Wednesday night when he and his colleagues made the argument that they could do a better job than voters selecting members of the school board.
"You can see me outside," Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson said from the dais in a vulgar schoolyard taunt at someone being removed from the council chambers. "You ain't got to wait to 2021 ... I'll be outside in the back in 15 minutes."
Robinson later posted an apology on Facebook acknowledging that he "became out of control ... in the heat of the moment."
"As an elected official, I should remain calm and collected even when faced with hostility. And last night, I did not. For that, I sincerely apologize," he wrote.
Robinson was among seven councilmen who approved a November ballot question asking voters to take control of the school board out of voters' hands and give them and the mayor the power to appoint the panel.
Mayor Steven Fulop called for the action following several resignations from the school board as well as criminal charges filed last month against former school board president Sudhan Thomas, who was accused of taking thousands of dollars in bribes from an attorney who sought to be hired by the district. Thomas was also charged by the feds this month with stealing from the Jersey City Employment and Training Program.
Thomas, who lost re-election in November, was an ally of Fulop, who also had appointed him to the jobs board.
Fulop was also angered by the school board after it declined to address anti-Jewish comments made by school board member Joan Terrell-Paige on Facebook following last month's massacre at a kosher supermarket.
“There is no question that the Jersey City school system has been in chaos," Fulop said in a written statement before the vote. "We are asking the voters to hold myself and the City Council directly responsible for the schools, but also in fairness, to give us the tools to make decisions that will fix the schools.
“Today, we are blamed for the schools but we don’t have the ability to make any changes as that only rests with the Board of Education. If given the chance, we will restore the schools so that our public school system will work better for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers.”
If approved by the voters, the city's mayor would have indirect control of a school district with 42 schools, 30,000 students and a massive budget that last year totaled $681 million.
Forty school districts in the state have boards appointed by a mayor or the county freeholders.
School elections are a sore spot in this city. The district regained full local control in 2018 after 30 years under state supervision. The district in 1989 became the first school system that was taken over by the state because of mismanagement. The district at the time was a political patronage pit and its nine members were appointed by the mayor. A judge at the time cited "deep-rooted and endemic" problems including financial irregularities as a reson for allowing the takeover.
Fulop told The Jersey Journal that the city takeover of the school board would be temporary.
“My goal is to solely fix the school crises,” Fulop was quoted as saying a day after the council's vote. “We are not looking to do this indefinitely. We are looking to fix it.”
The change is opposed by the district's teachers union, whose president, Ronald Greco, was booted from the meeting Wednesday as he called the City Council "pigs" and "bigoted."
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.