The Westside Community Group held its fourteenth annual council candidates’ debate Wednesday night. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
It was a tame affair, one that started and ended with smiles and handshakes, with serious debate and a few zingers in between.
The crowd of a couple dozen at Wednesday night’s debate of Red Bank’s council candidates was also a bit subdued, but asked about all the hot topics in town: taxes, pedestrian safety and the local economy.
It opened up with quips from Mayor Pasquale Menna, who thanked the crowd for coming to Sharon Lee’s birthday party she turned 55 yesterday and said Republican candidate Joe Mizzi, who sports a shaved pate and spontaneously threw out the opening remarks he prepared a month ago, had a full head of hair before he finished writing his beginning statement.
Then it got serious.
The Republican candidates, Mizzi and Rob Lombardi, made their stance clear from the start, that the current council spends too much money and as a result, the residents have to pay for it.
“The council is always looking at other sources of revenue,” said Lombardi, who ran for council last year. “When they get that revenue, they spend it. From top to bottom there must be an attitude change.”
He pointed to the borough’s water and sewer surplus of about $250,000, and said the borough should use that money to give residents a break on their water and sewer bills.
Lee, who is seeking a third term, said that money is needed to cover expensive infrastructure repairs and upgrades, a priority of hers.
Another priority of the Democrats is to shift with the times and keep Red Bank a thriving regional hub.
When talking about the downtown’s economic climate, Menna, who is unopposed this year, banged the drum for businesses to stay open later and on weekends and for landlords who “haven’t seen the light yet” to adjust rental rates to make opening a business downtown easier. He touted the council’s recent introduction to amend its parking deficiency ordinance as one way of stimulating local economy, but said more changes are needed to stay viable.
Lombardi and Mizzi see a problem with the council’s approach, though. Charging for parking on Saturday and slapping people with $38 parking tickets is to oppressive, Lombardi said.
“How would you raise revenue?” Councilwoman Kathy Horgan asked him.
Mizzi jumped in, saying he’d move to extend meter enforcement until 8p during the week in order to offer free parking on Saturdays.
“Mathematically it’s exactly the same,” he said.
One resident asked the candidates what they are going to do to make the borough, which has seen its share of car versus pedestrian accidents, safer.
Horgan defended the council’s moves to secure grants to make streets safer, while Menna said there needs to be a shift in the mentality of drivers and pedestrians.
In their closing statements, Mizzi and Lombardi said local government has been Democrat-heavy for too long, and the current council is too like-minded.
Lee, after claiming that neither Republican candidate attends council meetings, urged them to become more involved and they’ll see that the council often clashes on important issues.
Menna, again throwing some humor into the mix, echoed Lee’s argument that there isn’t uniformity on the council.
“If there was, councilman (Mike) DuPont would have his plastic bag ordinance,” Menna said, “and we don’t have plastic bag ordinance.”