DOWN BY THE SEA, IT’S STILL UP IN THE AIR

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Sea Bright’s mayoral race remained too close to call early today, and officials don’t expect to know who won before Friday.

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The latest vote count has Democratic challenger Maria Fernandes up five votes on incumbent Republican Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams, 272-267.

But nine provisional votes had yet to be certified as of late this morning, municipal clerk MaryAnn Smeltzer told redbankgreen this morning. A vote is labeled ‘provisional’ when a question or dispute exists over a voter’s registration, polling place or eligibility to cast a ballot.

Five Forty-one absentee ballots have already been counted.

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That leaves Kalaka-Adams, a political newcomer who won the mayoralty on her first attempt four years ago, needing six of the remaining nine ballots to hold onto her seat.

“It’s a nailbiter,” said Fernandes, who stayed at the polls two hours after they closed last night waiting for the absentee ballots to be counted. “I’m very proud of how we handled the campaign. It was very positive, very upbeat.”

Kalaka-Adams could not be reached by redbankgreen.

Fernandes has been on the council since 1997, and been council president for three years. Her coattails weren’t long enough, however, to help her running mate, Democrat Susana Markson. She came in third in a three-way race for two seats, falling to incumbent council members Peggy Bills, a banker, and Brian Kelly, owner of a solar-energy company, both Republicans.

Kelly pulled in 321 votes, Bills 302, and Markson, 263.

“It’s tough — this is a Republican town,” Fernandes said. “She didn’t quite make it.”

Markson won nearly a fourth of the vote in the 2004 election, when Bills ran unsuccessfully. Bills was appointed to her three-year term in December 2004.

Fernandes, a retired middle manager, ran on a platform of lowering school taxes. She has promised to work toward reforming the state’s thorough and efficient funding formula through the legislature. Sea Bright pays $78,000 per student for Shore Regional High School, which Fernandes calls “outrageous.”

If she wins, she’ll have a Republican-dominated council, 3-2.

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