Linden mayor accuses assemblyman of meddling in BOE election

Photo via Jamel Holley’s Facebook page
ELECTION SPAT — Assemblyman Jamel Holley has dismissed accustions from Linden Mayor Derek Armstead that he is attempting to interfere in the city’s school board elections.

LINDEN, NJ — A post on Mayor Derek Armstead Facebook and Twitter accounts has accused state Assemblyman Jamel Holley of trying to interfere with the city’s Board of Education elections and urged him to “stay out of Linden!”

According to the post that appeared Oct. 22, Armstead alleged that Holley had paid children to distribute campaign literature in Linden Wards 2, 6, 9 and 10. Holley, the former Roselle mayor, represents District 20, which includes Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union.
“My question is why the sudden interest in the Board of Education race in Linden?” Armstead wrote. “November 6th, vote Column 2 Moral Fiscal Responsibility candidates to keep outsiders Out of Linden.”

Armstead said during an Oct. 24 phone interview that his wife, Danie, had allegedly encountered “some kids” passing out campaign fliers for Linden Board of Education candidates Kyle Holder, Tanya Grissett and incumbent Theresa Villani. When his wife asked who had sent them to distribute the fliers, Armstead said they told her “it was Jamel Holley.”

Armstead supports candidates Patrick Gargano, Doris Johnson and Marianthe Manganello for the school board.
“It’s the season and things like this heat up,” Armstead said. “Elections are what they are and we try to tell people if you’re in another district, just stay in your own district. Don’t try to come over into our district. We’re not over there, so don’t come over here. It’s not too complicated.”
Holley posted a lengthy reply on Armstead’s Facebook page. In it he asked the “staff and wife of Derek Armstead” — who he claimed manages the mayor’s Facebook page — “to keep your widely false information about me regarding this race to yourself.”

“I have not financed, campaigned, nor officially endorsed any candidate in the City of Linden,” Holley wrote in the post. “However, one now wonders and should speculate why you would draw me into this race. If Roselle youth worked on Linden campaigns so be it. They have parents! They have a right.”

According to the post, Holley acknowledged that Holder had served as his legislative director.
“Kyle specifically worked on matters of legislation and as a result the only involvement I had in the City of Linden board of education was my vote to add $27.3 million to Linden schools,” Holley wrote. “In addition, my vote lent support to Linden will provide another $48.7m to its public schools by 2025.”

According to Holley’s post, he met with Armstead three times during the past several weeks to “assist Linden with a difficult redevelopment project” that “had the potential of not happening.” After several meetings, the project is “on its way for the benefit of Linden residents.”

Armstead disputed Holley’s assertion that he had stepped in to help with a project in Linden. He said he and Holley serve on the Linden Roselle Sewerage Authority. Armstead said he recently brought Tennessee-based Aries Energy to the table to process sludge, but that things were “moving slow.”

“Some of the lawyers involved were dragging their feet and not moving as expeditiously as I would like to see them move,” Armstead said. “I became a member of the board and had to get this thing on a different track, get it moving.”

Armstead said he has known Holley for “a long time.” When asked if they had a good working relationship, he said, “We have different political backgrounds, let me put it that way. My interests in politics are a lot different than his. Unfortunately, some of the very people who brought him in have worked tirelessly to see me not where I am today. Let me put it that way.”

When asked for a comment during an Oct. 25 phone interview, Holley said, “You can take that (social media) response if you want, but I’m not going to go on the record.”

Armstead said he wasn’t sure if his social media posts would stop youths from allegedly coming from Roselle to pass out campaign literature for Holder, Grissett and Villani.

“When things like this happen, I address them immediately,” Armstead said. “I’m not that shy politician from 20 years ago. I’m very forthright with my approach to other politicians, especially if I know their origins, how they came into politics and if my experience with them tells me what their political philosophy is and what they believe in.

“If I don’t find that to be advantageous sometimes to our community, I will challenge those individuals. That’s just who I am.”
There are three positions open on the Linden Board of Education. Each one is for a three-year term.

Armstead clashed with school superintendent Danny Robertozzi in August when the Board of Education discussed the idea of asking the county Board of Election to remove June primary voting from its schools in the name of student and staff safety. Board president Raymond Topoleski said several parents complained they had to adhere to the school district’s more stringent security measures while voters were allowed to enter without vetting.

In a press release, Armstead blasted Robertozzi, referring to the safety issue as a “smokescreen” and claiming the BOE was engaging in voter suppression.
The Board of Elections eventually denied the school board’s request to remove the voting.
Robertozzi said at the Sept. 20 meeting that the school district will go to “Plan B.” Schools are allotted four snow days each year; the first unused snow day or “giveback day” will be used to close schools for the primary June 4. If all four snow days are used, “Plan C” will go into effect, which will remove the vacation day scheduled for the Monday after Easter and use it to close schools for the June primary.

Robertozzi said if those plans fall through, the BOE will declare a half day, and will look into having a police presence inside the schools.
School Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10; Myles J. McManus Middle School and Linden High School are used for voting, according to the Linden City Clerk’s Office. In addition, Firehouse No. 3, the John T. Gregorio Recreation Center, PAL Building, St. Theresa’s Church complex and the 7th Ward and 8th Ward recreation centers are also used for voting.

State ethics charges have been filed against the two Board of Education members who were quoted in Armstead’s press release, Gregory Martucci and Katarzyna Kozak. Topoleski confirmed during an Oct. 19 phone interview that charges were filed by board member Ahmed Shehata. The board also voted 6-0 with one abstention to add its official sanction to the charges filed with the School Ethics Commission.
In a Sept. 29 Facebook post, Armstead called the ethic charges against Martucci and Kozak “baseless” and “frivolous.”