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VOX POPULI SAYS ‘MENNA, MURPHY & DUPONT’

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Red Bank Democrats swept the board in Tuesday’s election, led by mayoral candidate and Latin buff Pasquale Menna, who outpolled fellow councilmember John Curley by 101 votes in unofficial tallying to become the first immigrant Italian to win the borough’s top elected post.

Incumbent Councilman Arthur Murphy III won a clear victory over Republican rivals Grace Cangemi and David Pallister. Democrat Michael Dupont, however, won only after a review of absentee and provisional ballots gave him an unofficial 16-vote win to complete his party’s hat trick and preserve the 4-2 council majority.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I just got off the phone with Monmouth County,” an ebullient Mayor Ed McKenna told a crowd of several hundred gathered amid former clothing display racks and busted sheetrock at the former Garmany store on Broad Street. “They have Michael DuPont by a landslide 16 votes!”

The crowd, which had been waiting nearly two hours to find out if DuPont, a law partner to McKenna, would join his running mates on the governing body, erupted. DuPont appeared to weep.

It was an early night, by contrast, for the Republicans, who assembled upstairs at the Dublin House only to see clear defeats for Curley, who lost to Menna 1,663 to 1,562, and Palister, who was fourth among the four council contenders, with 1,512 votes. Their nights were over as soon as results from the last of nine voting districts arrived.

Menna’s margin of victory was 51.5 percent of the total 3,226 mayoral votes cast to Curley’s 48.5 percent.

Up in the air, though, was whether Cangemi had outpolled Dupont for the second council spot, which would have created a 3-3 tie on the council between Democrats and Republicans. Even as Curley’s defeat was becoming evident, word spread though two crowded rooms that Cangemi had won, briefly lifting spirits in what was becoming a dour party.

(The Asbury Park Press was reporting tonight that Cangemi had won the spot.)

Over at the Dems party, though, McKenna later said that while Cangemi outpolled DuPont by nine votes in regular balloting, DuPont had 96 absentee votes to Cangemi’s 71, giving him a 16-vote margin of victory.

Voting was especially tight for the two open council seats. None of the four contenders got less than 24.1 percent of the 6,267 votes cast, and none got more than 25.8 percent. Murphy led all council candidates with 1,617 votes.

When it became clear that he’d won, Menna tearfully embraced his father, Ennio, and other well-wishers. Menna, who was born in Italy, came to the United States as an 11-year-old, after living with his family for two years in Canada.

The election had in effect served as a referendum on McKenna’s 16-year reign as mayor, and the question of whether in turning the economic fortunes of the town around, the Democrats were giving developers and other commercial interests priority over the concerns of residents.

Menna ran promising to continue the work he’d started with McKenna when they were elected to the council in 1988. Last night’s win was seen as a vindication by the Democrats that they were on the right track.

In his victory speech, delivered from a carpeted platform on which once stood a mannequin, Menna pledged to expand commercial prosperity from the downtown west along Monmouth Street to Shrewsbury Avenue and the West Side. “We have a cohesive plan that’s not just East Side or West Side,” he said.

“On January 1, there will be a new administration that will continue with the same dedication and vision, that will be a forward looking vision, for all of Red Bank,” he said.

Menna ceded to the platform to McKenna, his political mentor, for the final word.

“It’s a bittersweet moment in many ways,” McKenna told the crowd, referring to his voluntary departure from the helm, “but I can’t believe the joys of leaving these three guys in charge.”

Afterward, Menna said he had not heard from Curley about the outcome.

“Of course not!” said McKenna.

Curley could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

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