Election Day didn’t return much in the way of surprises this year in Hamilton, with incumbents ruling the day. There was, however, one result that even shocked the winner.
In the race for three seats on the Hamilton Board of Education, incumbents Sue Ferrara and Rich Kanka finished first and second, respectively. Angelo Hall claimed the third and final seat, an outcome that left the candidate “very surprised and encouraged.”
Hall, 56, has been active in the community and with the schools for years, but had been notably absent this autumn. He left his job as executive director of the John O. Wilson Neighborhood Center in Hamilton several months ago, and did not run an active campaign for school board despite filing to be a candidate.
He did not appear at any candidate forums or respond to questionnaires, such as the one published by the Hamilton Post, and also stopped attending school board meetings. Hall previously had been a frequent presence at meetings and even served on several Hamilton school board committees.
Hall said, in an interview with the Post, that he receded from public view to focus on his family. He has been serving as the primary caretaker of his 81-year-old mother, who is ill. But his passion remains for township schools, he said, and he embraces the opportunity to sit on the school board. He will take the seat when his term begins in January.
He had two children go through the district, attending Yardville Heights Elementary, Grice Middle School and Hamilton High West. He is best known for his work with the Wilson Center. This work seemed to serve him well on Election Day, as Hall was the leading vote-getter in nearly all the township’s western districts, the primary communities served by the Wilson Center.
He worked for the State of New Jersey for 30 years, and said his professional focus was nonprofits, the arts and arts education. He anticipates serving as an advocate for arts education and for the community he served at the Wilson Center. He also wants to focus in helping the district reduce the number of student suspensions and the need for discipline.
But, first, he needs to make up for missed time, he said.
“I’m in learning mode,” Hall said. “I’m looking forward to re-engaging.”
Both Hall and Ferrara expressed excitement at the opportunity to work toward superintendent Scott Rocco’s agenda for the district. Kanka could not be reached for comment.
“I’m flattered,” Ferrara said. “I’m thrilled for the district, for the students, for Scott. The message is, ‘We can go forward and do what needs to be done.’”
Ferrara said she considered her vote tally as a mandate to do this. She beat the closest challenger, Kanka, by 1,500 votes. The next closest, Hall, only had two-thirds as many votes as Ferrara.
As part of pursuing Rocco’s priorities, Ferrara said the board must tackle space enrollment issues, and solicit community input for solutions and suggestions. Dovetailing into this are discussions on setting a strategic plan for the district’s future. This could include “reimagining” how the district looks and how its school buildings are used. Ferrara said the board could look at potential options that have worked for other districts, including designating certain schools as K-2 or 5th grade only, or establishing subject-specific academies within the high schools. Nothing has been proposed yet, which means at this time the district is only limited by how far it pushes its creativity.
“We have 24 schools,” Ferrara said. “The options are endless.”
A pair of candidates who barely missed out on school board seats said after the election that they plan to be part of that process.
Richard Crockett III finished fourth, just 350 votes shy of the final seat on the board. Crockett and running mate Sherry Morency came under fire during the campaign after an article by the Hamilton Post revealed Facebook accounts owned by the candidates had a history of racist, sexist and xenophobic posts.
Cynthia Simon, who belonged to the same slate as Crockett and Morency, finished fifth. The Hamilton Post did not find any hateful posts made by Simon, whose Facebook account is not viewable to the public.
Despite the turmoil, Crockett and Simon interpreted the results as people wanting more from them.
“We did get people talking, albeit for some slightly wrong reasons, and we need to continue the conversation, and keep it focused on the schools, the students, the support staff and the teachers,” Simon said, in an email also signed by Crockett. “We are not abandoning any of this.”
In their email, they referenced a pair of school meetings in mid-November they planned on attending, but their sights may also be set on issues aside from the ones facing the school district.
The morning after the election, Crockett and Simon posted an image to their personal Facebook pages announcing themselves as “independent candidates” for Hamilton council in 2019. Crockett replied to Simon’s post, saying “Welcome to the second game of the series.” The pair’s campaign manager, David Henderson, also replied, sharing an image of the word “BOOM.”
Simon later said the pair has not made a decision about a council run. She called the post “a simple image” to which they got “overwhelming response.” She said they will decide in the new year.
“We do not think there is a need to rush anything but we are keeping any and all options on the table,” Simon said, in the email also signed by Crockett.
The same day as the council candidacy post, another post appeared on the campaign Facebook page for Crockett, Morency and Simon that claimed the margin between Hall and Crockett was small enough to trigger a “mandatory recount.” Crockett shared the post to his personal page.
Mercer County Clerk Paula Somalli Covello said that post was untrue. Recounts in New Jersey are not compelled by margin of victory; voters or candidates must petition for one after the county finalizes results. On Nov. 7, when the post was made, the final results were still days away, meaning a recount could not have been requested yet.