Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Deceased Trustee's Election Causes Stir

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Deceased Trustee's Election Causes Stir

Article excerpt

WEST MILFORD -- Some voted for her as a tribute to a life of service. Some to deny her school board seat to the other candidates.

Still others may not have realized Valerie McGuinness had died a month earlier when they elected her to the Board of Education over two challengers on Nov. 4, taking their cues from the McGuinness signs around town (they were for her husband, Peter, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for council).

And she remained a candidate at the polls because ballots already had been printed before she died, said Antoinette Battaglia, the township clerk.

With 1,957 votes, McGuinness won a campaign to fill out a two- year unexpired term, as did James Devor, who secured 2,214 votes. Both had been appointed to fill two vacancies created in May.

They fended off challenges from Steven Drew and Ross Burns, who received 1,874 and 1,771 votes, respectively. McGuinness's election leaves the decision of filling her seat to the board.

Electing a deceased person is not unprecedented. Famously, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft lost his U.S. Senate seat in Missouri to Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash weeks before the 2000 election. In Salem, a two-term Board of Education member won a three-year term in last week's election after she died in mid- October at age 64. But in her case, she was guaranteed reelection as one of three candidates running for three seats.

Information on the cause of McGuinness's death was unavailable, and phone calls to Peter McGuinness were not returned Wednesday.

Some said McGuinness's supporters continued to campaign for her as a way of opposing her challengers, who were seen as tied to Jim Foody, a former trustee who often dissented from the majority. He is returning to the board after winning a full term last week.

"There was actually a campaign that included phone calls and a network of individuals involved with the school system asking for support" for McGuinness, Mayor Bettina Bieri said. …

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