NEW MAYOR JUST CLOSING OUT ‘SUZY’S TERM’

bob-neff-liz-halpin-091011Liz Castleman-Halpin, the late mayor’s daughter, with her own daughter, Noelle, looking on, expressed appreciation to Mayor Bob Neff at Felicia’s Kitchen last Saturday. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Bob Neff does not burn with political desire, which seems about right, temperature-wise, for the quiet little Mayberry burg of Little Silver.

A lawyer specializing in insurance defense, he’d been toiling away on the side for more than a decade in the all-but-invisible, and volunteer, state Tidelands Resources Council, which administers riparian leases and sales, when he was asked five years ago to run as a Republican for borough council in his longtime hometown of 6,000 residents.

He did. He was unopposed, and of course, won. Then he ran again, a year ago, and no one challenged him, again.

Now, though, he’s the mayor, having been sworn in earlier this month to complete the term of Suzanne Castleman, who died in July. And he’s running for a full term as mayor, with an opponent – independent Council President Dan Levine.

But Neff, a gee-shucks kind of guy who had to resign his council seat in order to serve as mayor, said if he loses the November race, well, that’s fine, too.

“The way I look at it is, this is Suzy’s term,” he told redbankgreen over a recent breakfast at Felicia’s Kitchen, after which he hounded the owner for a check she didn’t want him to pay. “The voters chose her.”

If he he can deliver a fraction of the energy and enthusiasm Castleman showed for Little Silver over 10 years as a council member and another 17 as mayor, he’ll consider that a success, Neff said.

“In that sense, it is a caretaker term,” he said. “I don’t have any grand initiatives.”

“This isn’t Newark. We’re not dealing with layoffs of 150 police officers or skyrocketing murder rates,” he said. Rather, the mundane matters of keeping a lid on taxes and delivering services make governance more about “just showing up and putting the work in.”

Neff doesn’t entirely steer clear of hot-button topics. Of the controversial, and failed, attempt to merge some Little Silver police operations with those of Fair Haven and Rumson in 2008, Neff said there has to be a fresh look.

“It’s not an easy conversation,” he said, referring to the competing passions on display among cost-cutters, the PBA and residents who cherish hometown policing. “You’re talking about jobs, you’re talking about public safety. But I think that still can be done. I’m not sure the idea is completely dead, but it certainly lost momentum.”

That’s not on the table at the moment, though. Neff aims simply to take care of of business as necessary and see what the voters have to say on the first Tuesday in November.

And if he wins?

“In that case, I’m going to invade Shrewsbury, annex Oceanport and consolidate the empire,” he jokes.