By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Along Rumson Road in the borough of Rumson, at least five campaign signs for Democratic hopefuls for state office can be seen.
And the county Democratic Party is gearing up to run two candidates for Rumson council in the 2008 elections.
But thus far in the history of this upper-crust borough, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, no Democrat has ever been elected mayor. And if any have made it to the council, historian George Moss is unaware of them.
“I don’t think there were any,” says Moss, who served on the governing body from 1944 to 1984.
No history will be made in that regard this year. Even with President Bush’s approval levels approaching that of linoleum, a GOP sweep, as usual, looks like a pretty sure thing in Rumson. Mayor John Ekdahl and his two running mates for the council, Joan DeVoe and Joseph Hemphill, are unopposed.
Ekdahl became mayor in 2003; he was unopposed then, too. His campaign budget this time around? “I’m not spending any money this year,” he says.
So, with apologies to Maureen Dowd, are Democrats necessary in Rumson?
Asked to address whether the council needs a Democratic voice, Ekdahl says it’s a non-issue. “At the pure local level, [government is] really non-partisan. It’s which streets to pave. Everybody wants to keep tax rates down.”
The Democratic candidates for council in 2008, long-time residents Michael Steinhorn and Fred Blumberg, say they’re running because opposing viewpoints are desperately needed. But they’re not in this year’s race because they need more time to meet voters, they said.
Steinhorn, a Realtor, says he’s been politically unaffiliated for 25 years and only recently registered as a Democrat because he says a one-party town is unhealthy for political debate.
“Candidates are not elected, they are selected. There’s a perception you should be a Republican here,” he says. “That perception may not be true, but that perception has to end.”
ran for council once before [Correction: he was asked to run, but declined, in 1976], says the political process in Rumson is not open. “They think alike,” he says of the borough council’s members.
“Reasonable people tend to disagree, but they don’t seem to disagree,” Steinhorn puts in, noting that most council votes are “lopsided. How can people agree that much?”
Steinhorn points to the new $5.5 million borough hall thats about to be built as an issue that needs more debate. “I don’t think everyones on board,” he says. “If expenses get out of control, people are going to go crazy.”
Nonsense, says Ekdahl. The decision was the result of a two-year process with much investigation as to whether the current building should be redone. “Mr. Steinhorn spoke at several of those meetings,” he says.
The mayor believes there is no stigma attached to being a Democrat. “I’d be really surprised to hear of anything like that. On the zoning or planning boards, we tend to put Republicans on because theyre the people we know,” he says. “But being of a different party would not disqualify a person.”
Most residents, he notes, are unaffiliated. The actual breakdown from the office of the county Superintendent for Elections supports this: There are 1,464 registered Republicans, 529 Democrats and 2,908 unaffiliated voters in town, as of October 24.
Yet some Rumsonites seem to feel that it’s not only gauche, but dangerous, to come out of the closet, politically speaking. One resident was deterred from putting an anti-George W. Bush bumper sticker on her car by her spouse, who she says worries the “neighbors will burn down the house” if they find out they’re not Republicans. Unsurprisingly, she asked redbankgreen not to identify her.
Are Democrats unwelcome in bucolic Rumson? A self-proclaimed “Christie Todd Whitman Republican” says she’s startled to see Democratic campaign signs lately around town. “You never saw signs like that before. I think there are more Democrats than ever,” the born-and-bred Rumsonite told us. She also declined to be identified.
“People used to say that if you werent a registered Republican, you couldn’t get a job as dogcatcher,” she says. She’s disillusioned with “religious-right wackos” who have “hijacked the political process,” but not disillusioned enough to vote for the “essentially a socialist” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.