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Fort Lee BOE Candidate Calls Out Incumbent For Challenging Petition

First-time Fort Lee Board of Education candidate David Sarnoff said incumbent John Bang challenged his petition to run for the school board based on a technicality. Bang, an attorney, said it wasn’t personal.

The United Homeowners of Fort Lee sponsored a debate Wednesday evening at Lewis F. Cole Middle School, during which the four candidates running for three seats on the Fort Lee Board of Education discussed their motivation for running and took questions from United Homeowners members and members of the dozens of people in the audience.

Incumbent John Bang, and challengers Holly Morell, Esther Han Silver and David Sarnoff squared off on the school budget, overcrowding in Fort Lee schools, the spending of Fort Lee taxpayers’ money and the way the school board awards contracts, among other issues.

But it was Sarnoff who came out swinging, questioning Bang’s record on the board seemingly every chance he got and calling the only incumbent running for reelection out for trying to get him disqualified from running on a what he later referred to as a “technicality.”

Bang however—like Sarnoff, an attorney—said he was just doing what any lawyer would do: trying to dismiss a motion.

Sarnoff saved the bombshell for his closing remarks, when he used more than half of his allotted time to explain how over the summer, he received a letter from the Bergen County Clerk saying his petition to run for the board had been challenged based on some of the signatures he had gathered.

“There was the potential that I would be disqualified from the ballot, and this challenge was filed by Mr. John Bang,” Sarnoff said, adding that by chance, he had bumped into Bang the day before the debate and said his opponent told him it was a common occurrence and that it was “nothing personal.”

“I don’t take it personally,” Sarnoff said, addressing his comments to Bang. “I’ll put my experience, character and integrity up against yours and let the voters decide any day of the week. No matter how much I would ever disagree with you, I would never go to the lengths to try to disqualify you from the ballot.”

Sarnoff contended, in fact, that it wasn’t a common occurrence, as Bang had suggested during their conversation.

“Of the candidates here tonight, I was the only one who was challenged,” Sarnoff said. “I asked the clerk supervisor of elections in Hackensack how many petitions in Bergen County were challenged.”

The answer he got, he said, was “zero.”

He added, “So it’s not about me; it’s about the people who signed my petition and them having a democratic, constitutional right to nominate who they want to run for the Board of Education.”

Sarnoff went on to enumerate, by name, the people whose signatures Bang had challenged, saying a few personal words about the integrity of each of them.

According to Sarnoff, Bang even challenged Sarnoff’s wife’s signature, something he took particular issue with.

“Mr. Bang challenged her signature as to whether or not she can vote for her husband to put him on the Board of Education ballot,” he said. “I believe you owe them a public apology, and I would appreciate that, Mr. Bang.”

Bang, who happened to be up next for closing remarks, did not apologize, telling Sarnoff only, “When you told me you didn’t take it personally yesterday, your were kind of exaggerating,” and going on to say all four of the candidates were running with the same motivation and passion: to serve the children in the school system—Bang and Sarnoff both have kids in the Fort Lee school system, as do Morell and Silver—and that they all have similar positions on the issues.

Speaking to reporters and some members of the public after the debate, Bang tried to explain his motivation for attempting to get Sarnoff disqualified from the ballot, saying, “Maybe it’s just my mind frame from being an attorney.”

“Being an attorney, my first job is if somebody files a motion, I move to dismiss,” he said. “It’s just an automatic reaction.”

He couldn’t say if there was something specific about Sarnoff’s application that compelled him to file the challenge, but he did say, “It is a competition.”

“I’m not saying this is absolutely wrong; I’m just saying there’s a question here,” Bang said. “And if there’s a question, I would like the [election authorities] to look at it.”

Bang added, “One of my running mates dropped out at the last minute; maybe it was a mistake.”

Bang was referring to Steve Byoun, who , whose petition he admitted he also challenged.

Bang also said it was certainly not the first time there’s been a challenge for someone’s petition for the school board, but that perhaps it was the first time the Bergen County Clerk had seen one, since school board elections were moved to November.

“It might have been a technical thing, like it wasn’t notarized right,” Bang said. “To tell you the truth, for me, it was just one of the procedural things that you do.”

He added, “I assumed people were challenging me as well.”

Asked if he was simply trying to eliminate some of his competition, Bang said, “It’s not about that, but if they make it easy for you why shouldn’t you take it?”

“And if [it doesn’t work], you go on,” he added. “It really wasn’t personal.”

On the morning after the debate, Sarnoff said Bang challenged seven signatures on one of his petitions, but that he actually filed two petitions, something he wasn’t sure Bang knew.

“In order to be on the ballot, you need 10 valid signatures of Fort Lee residents who are registered voters,” Sarnoff said. “And when I announced that I was initially running in the beginning of the year, I filed a petition with the Fort Lee Board of Education.”

When the election was moved to November, Sarnoff said he was told that his petition would be forwarded to the county. But he was also “advised” to “play it safe since the county was relatively new to handling Board of Ed. elections” and file a second petition.

“You’re allowed to do [that], so I had over 20 signatures,” Sarnoff said. “So Mr. Bang went to the county on the last day that you can challenge and apparently pulled one petition and saw 12 names and presumably thought if he knocked off three, he would get me off the ballot.”

Sarnoff called the move a “complete waste of the county's resources.”

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Wednesday’s debate also featured substantive dialogue on a number of issues, and although the four candidates often expressed similar opinions, as Bang pointed out, some specific suggestions were offered by each of them.

Patch will therefore take a closer look at the debate, breaking down some of these issues, in a subsequent article.

The debate will be televised on cable television, although United Homeowners president Diane Sicheri couldn’t provide a specific airdate Wednesday.

Editor's note: In a previous version of this story, David Sarnoff was misquoted and at no time accused John Bang of any wrongdoing.

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The Fort Lee Council candidates’ debate, which was also sponsored by the United Homeowners, will air Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Cable channel 81 and on FiOS channel 34.

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bruce skop October 19, 2012 at 08:42 AM
Cleary, this illustrates Mr Bangs judgement and his character. I suggest Mr Bangs scorched earth orientation towards running for office is reflective of how he will serve the public......any means justifies the end. What Ft Lee needs more of is transparency, integrity and character to help insure our BOE resources are considered in the best possible light.
Howard L. Pearl October 19, 2012 at 01:47 PM
The Homeowner’s 2012 debate was probably the liveliest, the most informative, and the most contentious debate in a BOE election in many years. Diane Sicheri, recently elected Homeowner’s President, did an excellent job of staging this debate, while Alex Floratos performed admirably as moderator. While Esther Han Silver and Holly Morell made strong arguments to promote their respective candidacies , the debate essentially boiled down to a one-on-one confrontation between John Bang and David Sarnoff. Mr. Bang was continuously under attack by Mr. Sarnoff for BOE lack of performance and for challenging Mr. Sarnoff’s petition. In the link below, the writer Linh Tat efficiently denotes that Mr. Bang’s dismissal of the terms of a major contract indicates a lack of fiscal experience. The article cites Mr. Bang placing blame on older BOE members for the Board’s poor performance. However, Mr. Bang has been there for FOUR years, not a few days. He has to take some responsibility. Finally, the article decries Mr. Bang’s challenge of Mr. Sarnoff’s petition to run as essentially a desperate measure to win. 1. Trustee candidates debate in Fort Lee - NorthJersey.com Sidenote: The comedy sideshow was dominated by Councilman Michael Sargenti, who decided to wear a RIDGEFIELD logo shirt to a FORT LEE BOE televised debate. It appears that the Borough Council will now have to vote on a dress code for its members when they appear at public forums.
Keith Jensen October 19, 2012 at 02:05 PM
A Fort Lee DPW logo on Councilman Sargenti's shirt. At least thats the word on the street. There is a very consistent rumor around town rife with a Democrat power play to maintain control of their party rule, for friends and family of course, while fracturing the Korean Community with a newly anointed person to replace Councilman Sargenti. This is a story in of itself and I hope some investigative journalism can expose it.
john q public October 19, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Maybe Sargenti should lobby for a job in Ridgefield instead of Fort Lee
Tracy October 19, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Hi Everyone! While I did not attend the debate (I watched it) and dropped out for familial reasons, I have to object to the scrutiny of John Bang challenging any petition. If nothing else, it is his right under the American electoral regulations. Yes, he has the right to do that as does anyone. Its a risk we all take I suppose when we sign up. After the initial shock of receiving my letter thinking I may have done something wrong, I received the "'your petition is fine'' letter two days afterward. I considered it flattering that he thought that I was a formidable opponent and a bit ironically humorous that he challenged my husbands name. So, trying to twist and turn this into a negative character flaw is irresponsible and self serving. Its grasping at straws to belittle in this manner, when there are numerous issues that are actually about educaton that can be debated. My experience with John Bang does not match what has been written about him on Patch. While I understand where the personal feelings are derived from, I feel that its NOT in the best interest of this community, especially the school system, to have ONLY that connotation following him. He was at most of the meetings I was at, and when he does speak, (I do wish it was more) I found him to be articulate, prepared and thoughtful. There are greater things to bring up, discuss and debate. Did we forget about the greater issues in our school system?
Zachary David October 19, 2012 at 02:35 PM
It seems clear that Mr. Bang considers David Sarnoff a particular threat to his leadership role on the BOE. His explanation that it was some sort of knee jerk legal reaction is so lame that is laughable.
Howard L. Pearl October 19, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Tracy: When a candidate challenges all petitions, it might be considered legitimate. Challenging specific ones may be a little more suspect. But even if it legal, is it ethical? Flattering, never! Annoying, disconcerting, and desperate, ALWAYS! As for debating the more important issues, I assume you fell asleep while watching! You attend meetings; this BOE has been dysfunctional for the last four years and John Bang has been a contributing member to the lack of performance. That is called “accountability”. This debate included references to poor contract review with specific reference to travel expenditures; poor fiscal policy; and no master plan to address the overcrowding issue. There was the poorly conceived decision to admit unqualified students to AP classes, contributing to a drop in our school ranking. The Fort Lee school system is in crisis and we did not get there by accident. Current BOE members have to assume responsibility; passing the negative performance onto the “older administration” is a copout by Mr. Bang.
Tracy October 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Hi H! I knew that would get your attention. But truth be told, Bang challenged Sarnoff's and my petition speccifically we were/are formidable opponents. And I just cannot view him negatively for evoking the rights of being in America. We took a risk as candidates, this was simply part of the process. I do not think our SD is in crisis for the all reasons you stated. I beleive that its in crisis due to over crowding, strained work loads and not so great mid level leaders. The BOE has has a long history of poor decision making, however over the past 12-18 mobths, they accomplished quite a bit. Support of the BOE is much more productive than criticizing without full knowledge or understanding about the process and procudures of educational management. Focusing on dotting i's is not useful when the bigger picture needs to be focused--- we as a community need to act well to be well---what is that saying? BE the change you want to see! I was very successful in getting what wanted to be done in the schools by being supportive and listening, learning and asking polite questions--- But going back to Bang-- as your friend, I get annoyed at him for what he did to you personally. But as a citizen, I cannot jump on the anti Bang band wagon---I have not observed the same..... TtYL, Tracy
Shawn Arnone October 19, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Tracy, i was at the debate but missed some of it due to a phone call, can you tell me where i can view it? I was told it will not be available toll the Homeowner's Association broadcasts it at a date TBD. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks
Shawn Arnone October 19, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Tracy, i am not sure i understand your "dotting the i's" comment. Being attentive to the details of contracts is not only a money saver but prevents future liabilities to the District. For example, when members of the public, including Mr Sarnoff, pressed the board concerning an insurance broker contract, it resulted in a savings of over $70,000 that can now go directly to the students education and not wastefully to a vendor. $70,000 saved on just one contract, by the public raising the questions, can you imagine with a little extra effort what we can save on the mountains of orher contracts that are signed. In my opinion, with more effort we can save significant sums of money and redirect it to address the bigger issues you point out.
Baba O'Riley October 19, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Naturally you do not want any tainted documents within your organization and saving money is great for the people who pay the bills (the Fort Lee taxpayers). Do you think he may have other reasons? A majority of Koreans on the BOE; similar to what has happened to most of the stores and restaurants in Fort Lee?
William Mays October 19, 2012 at 08:40 PM
This is about our kids, not your political games, Keith.
Tracy October 19, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Hi Shawn, Nope that was not what I consider and i ! and this isn't about Dave, he will be fine on the BOE. And I would say he is being the change he wants to see, my comments were not directed at him, I just find the Bang detail are not the details to get stuck on....we have better things to do. Holly Morell had a great quote today in The Record today-- paraphrasing, she stated that perhaps all vendor bids should go ut to bid as they are renewed. Although that is not common practice among BOE, it would be a good idea, don't you think !?
Diane Sicheri October 19, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Shawn you are correct, that we have not shown it yet. I should have a date of broadcast by tomorrow and will put the details on the patch. President of the United Homeowners
Tracy October 20, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Shawn, I was wondering what you were talking about becasue I have been witing to see when its on--and true to form my word tense was off along with lots of typos! ! Diane, please let us know when its on-- I hope its early
Shawn Arnone October 20, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Hi Tracy, maybe I owe you an apology? But above, you said you did not attend the debate but watched it, so sorry for the confusion but with all the info you had without attending, you could see why I made my assumption/mistake. Again, my apologies.
Fort Lee Truth October 20, 2012 at 03:14 AM
The problem with Fort Lee is we have WAY too many attorneys on the Mayor and Council, BOE and other positions of authority. Regarding Sargenti, who cares what he's wearing at a BOE meeting? He has a brother who owns a pizzeria in Ridgefield, so that's one of his connections there.
William Mays October 20, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Yeah lol, the Republicans are resulting to spreading rumors like 15 year old girls now. Its pretty funny. Oh look what he was wearing at the meeting, Oh my gawd!
Tracy October 20, 2012 at 11:55 AM
Shawn- in no way do u ore me anything like that! I think it's a lesson for me to check my comments and read them with a fresh mind before I hit submit.

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