Is Red Bank riding a surge of prosperity, poised to begin spreading its commercial and cultural riches beyond the downtown to the West Side? Or has development run amok, altering the towns small-town character for the worse, and sticking residents with too much of the tab and aggravation?
These are some of the big issues in this years election of a successor to Mayor Ed McKenna, and represent, in broad strokes, the perspectives of the two candidates, council members Pasquale Menna and John Curley.
Voters could hardly have a clearer choice, both in outlook and personality. Menna is an immigrant from Italy via Canada, a longtime Democrat and McKenna ally whos been deeply involved in the towns lets call it repositioning, so as to remain neutral since 1988. He is soft-spoken and formalistic, with a taste for the classics, and is writing a book on a little-known aspect of Italian history.
Curley, by contrast, has changed party affiliations three times. A son of a Shrewsbury homebuilder whose ties to the area go back more than a century, Curley was briefly a McKenna protégé but now does regular battle with the departing mayor in public. He is quick to speak his mind, often forcefully, and relaxes with biographies of big-hat American politicians like Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy.
Each candidate, of course, has his own views on where Red Bank has been, where it ought to go next, and how it might get there.
Today, redbankgreen presents the first of three Q&As with Curley and Menna, based on select questions from interviews conducted with each in his home. The other entries will run on Oct. 25 and Nov. 1.
In addition, we plan to run individual profiles of Menna and Curley shortly before the Nov. 7 election. Stay tuned.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Democratic Party?
Menna: Im not sure the Democratic National Committee might agree, but I would characterize it a number of different ways. First and foremost its having a very strong social streak. What I mean by that is that I believe government has the ability and the obligation to do things for the good, and to be proactive in doing so. Not necessarily to be in peoples faces, but at least on social issues to try to be a leader.
The party for me stands for an understanding of the sort of broad-stroke inclusiveness that is a deep part of this country and part of the western world in general. Even in Europe today, you dont have the homogeneous groups that you had 50 years ago; its a melting pot of various traditions. I think inclusivity is very important, and I think thats still a hallmark of the Democratic Party.
In terms of national issues, I don think the Democrats are really au courant for people in Red Bank per se. There are a lot of people in Red Bank who are Democrats who are not necessarily adherents to the party principles on national issues, and I think you have to be able to separate that sometimes. We are still a very closely-knit town. Were still very religious, which I am and have always been and will always be. I mean, its anachronistic, but I do go to church every Sunday and sometimes during the week…
Im disappointed by the national party.
In what way?
Lack of clarity. Lack of dissension. And essentially, abandonment of a lot of the purpose that a lot of people who are not wealthy look to the Democratic Party to attain for them. I think most Democrats are in agreement that there has to be a resolution to the carnage in Iraq, that the policy is a failed policy at this point, and is only going to get worse. Whether Osama bin Laden is caught or Saddam Hussein is executed is of no consequence. The broader issues have never been tackled, certainly not by this administration.
I think that in terms of economic issues, I see a lot of poor people being hurt by the policies of this Congress and this administration. I see senior citizens whose lives have become a complicated morass of paperwork that they bring to lawyers like me, and I have to honestly tell, them, I dont know what this says. The entitlement programs that people have expected, whether it be Social Security or Medicare, are so complicated these days that I think theyre deliberately geared to having people not availing themselves of them. On housing, I think that we as a party have to work to make housing available to those who have worked for it. Im talking about senior citizens, Im talking about entry-level families.
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Republican Party?
Curley: I find to be a Republican or a Democrat on the local level means nothing. Because local elections should all be non-partisan. At the local level, theres no majority leader, no minority whip. Local elections should be free for people to just step up and run, where they dont have to have the endorsement of a party.
You know, one of the greatest prejudices thats out there is political labels. I would walk up to doors when I was a Democrat, and people would say, Youre a Democrat? God, I cant vote for you. And Ive walked up to doors as a RepublicanHit the road, Jack!
Do you feel that youre connected to the national party?
So you dont necessarily support the President, as the head of the party, and what you do doesnt necessarily reflect the partys views?
Do you feel connected to the Republican Party at the county level?
I have no affiliations with the county party. Im never going to fit in that puzzle anywhere. Thats just the nature of the person. I am a very independent thinker, and I emphasize that to the two people who are running with me [council candidates Grace Cangemi and David Pallister]. I say, Help me, because I dont know everything, and I need your experience and your direction in life to help me. Ive got two very good people there.
So its a flag of convenience for you to call yourself a Republican?
Well, its a flag of convenience if you use the term loosely. It sounds negative, and I dont mean it to sound negative. It takes an awful lot of money to run for public office, and you really need, under the present system, to have some affiliation to get in the [ballot] column. Otherwise you get stuck out in Timbuktu.
You ran (and lost) for the Shrewsbury Borough Council as a Democrat when you were 21, and later became a Republican. Then you switched back and became president of Red Bank Democratic Club. Last year, after having been elected to the Red Bank Council as a Democrat, you switched again and won re-election as a Republican. Some people might say you were a carpetbagger, to be quite blunt about it.
On the surface, it certainly appears to be.
Well, what do you say to that?
I saw what was going on in the Democratic Party. Id been on the zoning board, and Id started noticing that a lot of these deals were going through very easily. And I started looking at things, like campaign donations, and I saw what I call stinky politics.