By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Stepping into the spotlight for the first time since her apparent failure to win a second term as mayor in November, Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams announced today that she has not conceded the election and has turned to the courts to sort out what she called voting “irregularities.”
Kalaka-Adams said she has filed an action in state Superior Court in Freehold Dec. 13 seeking to invalidate the election results for alleged voting by non-resident homeowners and the shutdown of a voting machine two minutes early.
And adding to the political theater at today’s government reorganization meeting, all three Republicans on the council declined to vote on all borough matters, citing the uncertainty of who should hold the mayor’s seat.
It all left newly sworn-in Democratic Mayor Maria Fernandes somewhat bemused.
“I’ve been on the council 11 years and Ive seen some odd behavior, but this really has to take the cake,” she told redbankgreen.
Kalaka-Adams began the town’s annual reorganization meeting today by impassively reading a statement that accused Fernandes of having “prematurely ended” Kalaka-Adams term by being sworn in by municipal clerk Maryann Smeltzer on January 1st.
Fernandes had resigned her council seat on Dec. 5 two days after a recount requested by Kalaka-Adams upheld Fernandes’ three-vote victory, 276 to 273 to expedite the appointment of her own replacement, Susanna Markson.
Fernandes, who took a ceremonial oath today, noted that her resignation preceded the court challenge, and added that there was nothing improper about her swearing-in on Tuesday, because she was legally mayor as of January 1.
Kalaka-Adams, who has not attended any council meetings since her three-vote defeat, went on to say that the court needed to decide the election’s outcome.
“While I would have conceded the election if there had been no irregularities,” Kalaka-Adams said, “I owe it to the voters who voted for me, to the legal voters who were unable to vote, to the integrity of the voting process and to the town of Sea Bright, to leave it to the Court to determine whether the results should be overturned or a new election ordered.”
“I’m the mayor,” said Fernandes afterward. “It’s certified.” She denied any irregularities in the election.
“The votes were counted and I won. Then they wanted the provisionals and the absentee votes counted, and I won again. Then they asked for recount, and I won that,” she said. “I think that someone is misinforming them or they’re not understanding the law correctly, because they keep doing these same legal mistakes.”
Fernandes was sworn in by Freeholder and Judge John DAmico, and was supported by a contingent of representatives of the Portuguese-American community and interviewed, in Portuguese, by the state Portuguese cable channel, RTP. She’s the first Portuguese-American female mayor in the state.
Other council members sworn in today included Republicans Brian Kelly and Peggy Bills, both re-elected to their seats, and Democrat Markson, appointed after losing her bid for a seat in the general election.
The Republicans. though, were disinclined to take formal action with the borough’s leadership unresolved.
“Were abstaining from voting today,” outgoing Council President William Keeler declared, citing Kalaka-Adams’ challenge. “But we had hoped it would be resolved by today.”
Republican party municipal chairwoman and attorney Marianne McKenzie said there were at least two voters who were unable to vote because the polls had closed two minutes early.
“We got a printout during the recount, and the time said 7:58, she told redbankgreen. She also claimed that at least six people who own property but do not have Sea Bright as their primary residences improperly voted. Individuals may not understand that they aren’t voting legally, she explained, but their votes shouldn’t be counted.
Had the election gone the other way, she said, “Either side would have done what we’re doing.”
Democratic Councilwoman and new Council President Dina Long differed. “Regardless of dissatisfaction with the election, the borough government must go on,” she said, reading from impromptu notes she said she made during the meeting. She said she only found out five minutes prior to the meeting that the Republicans would not be voting.
“I’m disappointed in my colleagues on the council who chose partisan loyalty and personal interest over the best interest of Sea Bright,” Long said. If the election was illegitimate, she asked, why weren’t the Republicans questioning the re-elections of Bills and Kelly?
Kalaka-Adams, who appeared calm throughout the proceedings, left the meeting before it ended and when asked for an interview, handed redbankgreen a copy of her statement.
redbankgreen was unable to reach Kalaka-Adams attorney, Tim Howes of Raritan.