NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – She’s a Ronald Reagan-adoring Latina and a great grandmother who has run for president of Mexico, mayor of San Bernardino, Calif. and a post in the New Jersey State Assembly.
And now, Maria Concepcion Powell is running for a seat on the New Brunswick Board of Education.
Powell has lived in the Hub City since 2015 and understands that she is likely to get more double takes than votes in this Democratic stronghold when the mail-only vote is counted May 12.
“Being a woman, Latina and a Republican – I get it,” she said. “Yes, it’s very rare. But, I am from the old Republicans, like the Ronald Reagan-era when Mr. Reagan was our governor in California. It was a big deal to be a Republican. My parents became very, very, very, how do I say it, crazy freaks with Ronald Reagan.”
Whether Maria the Moderate can follow in the footsteps of Ronald the Republican remains to be seen. Win or lose, don’t count Powell out. She has displayed uncommon determination through her life.
She was once a single mother struggling to make ends meet in Southern California. Years later, in 2018, when mounted a campaign to be president of Mexico – albeit almost exclusively via social media from the safety of her home – after receiving death threats.
And even last spring, she unflinchingly ran for State Assembly in the 17th district where no Republican has ever won since the district was drawn in 1973.
She didn’t win, but it was an eye-opening campaign.
“I learned about how broken the school system is not just in New Brunswick, but it's all over the state,” she said. “And I I learned a lot about what's going on here in New Brunswick in regards to the school district. And also I felt that if I didn't jump into help, that there is no other way we can get things better for especially for the children.”
Incumbents Dale Caldwell, Emra Seawood and Patricia Varela, who are running under the banner “New Beginnings For New Brunswick Schools.” Two other candidates, Reginald “Reggie” Parker and Linda “Lindy” Stork are running on the “Students First” ticket.
Jad Kaado’s s petition to run was not accepted by board administrator Richard Jannarone. Kaado, who is seeking to join the “Students First” ticket, is waiting for a response to a letter his legal representation sent to Secretary of State Tahesha Way and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
It is Kaado’s position that his petition should be valid because, even though it was filed after the original March 2 deadline. Since Murphy’s executive order move back election day, the deadline to file should have also been moved back to 50 days or more before the vote, Kaado said..
Powell, who works as an economic development consultant and helps run the National Women’s Grocer Association, said she would focus on improving the schools’ infrastructure. She wants to safer, eco-friendly environments for students that are equipped with new technology.
Unlike the members of Students First, Powell is in favor of the plan where Lincoln Annex School would be razed to make way for a 12-story cancer hospital. The students would attend school at the Pathways Campus on Van Dyke Avenue while a replacement school was built. The $750 million project would be paid for by massive hospital chain RWJBarnabas Health.
“I really think that this is a great opportunity for the city,” Powell said. “I've been looking at the project for the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Yeah. And also I've been looking at all of the possibilities for the kids in the moving and mobilizing the children out of that area. My biggest concern is safety for the children. And we have all of the tools, everything that needs to be in place to mobilize the kids, I don't have any objections in regards to the building the Institute.”
Powell has three children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.