FRANKLIN LAKES — The wife and husband team of Kim and Joel Ansh won seats on the high school board and borough council on Tuesday thanks to an unorthodox joint campaign promoting parents’ rights.
Their campaign eclipsed the election of Joel Ansh’s running mate.
Four-term councilor Charles Kahwaty was elected mayor and will succeed Frank Bivona, who did not seek re-election after 11 years in office.
Ardith Cardenas was elected to the Board after some back and forth. She attempted to drop out of the primary race, but then reversed her withdrawal and ultimately won.
The election of primary school board incumbent Elisa Billis for a new term with her running mates Lisa Cardella and Robert Spiotti was also overshadowed.
Kim and Joel Ansh and Cardenas were already active participants in Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School board meetings when Joel Ansh and Ardith were asked by the borough’s GOP committee to run on the party line with Kahwaty in the June primary, unexpectedly topping incumbent Council members Ann Swist and Joseph Cadicina four terms in office.
Kim Ansh filed a second candidacy in July for a seat on the board of Ramapo, which also serves students from Wyckoff and Franklin Lakes. She had lost her 2021 bid for the position to incumbent Helen Koulikourdis.
The party line designation is seen as a virtual guarantee of November election success in this GOP-dominated borough. Kahwaty and Cardenas campaigned conservatively, if at all. However, Kim and Joel Ansh continued to speak at high school board meetings, questioning policies on COVID, curriculum and tax issues. Joel Ansh’s campaign leaflet promised to ‘challenge discriminatory school taxes’ even though the Council has no jurisdiction over school budgets.
The Anshes were the only Franklin Lakes candidates invited to participate in an October “meet and greet,” including some Wyckoff School Board candidates along with GOP county and district candidates per Women United for a Stronger New Jersey Its founders include Mae Bogdansky, wife of Wyckoff board nominee Tom Bogdansky, and Cynthia Phillips, who runs the board of directors bi-weekly YouTube critique of the high school council with former Ramapo council president Filomena Laforgia.
Comments and questions from Ansh, Phillips, Laforgia and Oakland parent Deborah Mutterer about a district dishwasher purchase from the owners of Yudin’s Appliance Store while their daughter, Vivian King, an employee of the store and school board member, led to a lawsuit against the four by store owners Sue and Bob Yudin, who said the four made “defamatory” remarks, inferring that the purchase was made illegally in violation district codes despite repeated assurances from council officials that King had been left out of the decision-making process.
Charges are pending against Laforgia and Phillips, but have been dismissed against Ansh and Mutterer. Ansh quickly designed a website and flyer urging voters to “stand up for parental rights and free speech” which the couple distributed door-to-door with campaign flyers, despite the Council’s autonomy from the the school board.
Kahwaty declined to comment on Ansh’s campaign Thursday, saying instead that “the people of Franklin Lakes have bestowed on me one of the greatest honors of my life by electing me mayor.”
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“Mayor Bivona has left a tremendous legacy of achievement, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for myself and for the new council,” Kahwaty said. “I will do my best to justify the voters’ confidence in me, no matter what.”
Kim Ansh gave “a special thank you to the many volunteers from Franklin Lakes, Oakland and Wyckoff who helped me with my campaign.”
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“My gratitude is immeasurable,” said Kim Ansh. “I am also grateful for the outpouring of support from the Franklin Lakes community. You have my full commitment to keeping my campaign promise to put our students first.”
Joel Ansh also thanked his supporters.
“I am humbled and honored to have been elected and look forward to serving the constituents of Franklin Lakes on City Council,” said Joel Ansh.
Franklin Lakes Mayor’s Vote:
- 3253 – Charles Kahwaty (R)
- 891 – Michael Strauss (D)
Franklin Lakes Council Vote:
- 2727 – Joel Ansh (R)
- 2603 – Ardith Cardenas (R)
- 1180 – Fernando Saenz (D)
- 717 – Suzanne McGowan
- 640 – Gary Shepard
Franklin Lakes Regional High School Vote:
- 1858 – Kim Anch
- 1607 – Maria “Amparo” Underfer
Franklin Lakes School Board vote (three seats):
- 2228 – Lisa Cardelle
- 1990 – Elisa Billis
- 1758 – Robert Spiotti
- 987 – Sarah Mourad