ATTACK OF THE DUBIOUS EXCERPTS

“JOHN CURLEY… ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL,” declares a recent campaign mailer sent out by Red Bank Democrats in one of the first attack ads of this year’s mayoral race.

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Bearing an image of a pillow on a steering wheel, the mailer takes Republican Councilman and mayoral candidate John Curley to task for his purported responsibilty in the recent Finance Department mess. That’s the one in which former CFO Terence Whalen was replaced following the discovery of lax fiscal controls, and property owners got stuck with a tax increase to cover associated costs.

But the folks involved in writing and editing the mailer may have been asleep at the wheel, too. Or were they perhaps doing some aggressive driving?

The mailer includes anti-Curley excerpts from newspaper articles or editorials that apparently don’t exist.

The mailers are the first attack ads of what until now had been a civil mayoral election season. redbankgreen has received two since late last week. Both were sent by the Red Bank Democratic Campaign and target Curley without mentioning his Democratic opponent, Council President Pasquale Menna.

One, however, contains references to newspaper articles whose existence could not be verified by a check of newspaper archives.

This is from the mailer headlined “John Curley… Asleep at the Wheel,” which hit our mailbox last Thursday:

John Curley’s department overspent and mismanaged our tax dollars, resulting in a $400,000.00 hole in this year’s budget (Asbury Park Press, 8/29/06)

Did the Press actually say that? What made us suspicious about the purported excerpt is the use of decimal points; almost no newspaper uses them on sums that large. So we went looking for the story. What we found was an Aug. 29 story by Press reporter Larry Higgs on the infamous “Why don’t you take me down to Broad Street and hang me” episode, in which Curley was ousted as Finance Committee chairman.

But the story doesn’t include the sentence quoted in the mailer. Nor does any other story we could find in the paper’s electronic archive, accessed via the NewsBank database used by the Red Bank Public Library (card required). A source at the Press confirmed that no such story could be found in the newspaper’s own archives, either.

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The same flier also includes this purported excerpt from The Hub:

He did not meet individually with the CFO and therefore had no idea of the financial mess that was brewing. Even when the CFO was terminated, Mr. Curley never met with the acting CFO regularly to oversee the department and find out what he did wrong. (The Hub, 8/24/06)

No story on the “financial mess” referred to appears in The Hub’s online archive, not even in the Aug. 24 story by Layli Whyte on the borough council vote to increase taxes. That story makes no reference whatever to Curley’s alleged failure to meet with the acting CFO.

We went to the hard copy, just in case it hadn’t been archived properly. No story containing the purported excerpt could be located.

A call to Menna yesterday afternoon was not returned, nor was a messgage left last night for the Democratic campaign manager, Larry Kerrigan. Watch this space though; we’ll post their comments here when we’ve heard from either.

Curley, himself no stranger to the provocative utterance, says the attack ad is “uncalled for, especially in a small town like Red Bank.”

The strange thing about this episode is that the the purported quotes are completely consistent in substance with what departing Mayor Ed McKenna has been saying for several months about Curley—often at shouting level. So the fliers could have cited McKenna quotes that were included in articles in the Aug. 24 edition of the Hub and the Press of Aug. 29 and still made the same point.

So why didn’t they? It’s tempting to conclude that somebody wanted to make it look like the newspapers themselves were also anti-Curley, and to do so without attaching the names of any incumbent Democrats to the attack.

We here at redbankgreen wonder how readers feel about this kind of campaign advertising. Was the use of the purported excerpts acceptable, and is Curley fair game as a target? More broadly, is Curley right, that the electorate isn’t served by this type of campaigning at the mayoral level?

Comments, please…

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