RED BANK: CANDIDATES DIFFER ON FINANCES

GOP challenger Suzanne Viscomi speaks at Wednesday night’s candidates’ forum as incumbents Mike DuPont, left, and Art Murphy listen. (Photo by Rebecca Desfosse. Click to enlarge)

By REBECCA DESFOSSE

The lone GOP challenger for one of two Red Bank council seats open in the November 6 election squared off against two incumbents in a lively forum at the River Street Commons Wednesday night.

Newcomer Suzanne Viscomi, of Allen Place, is taking on Democrats Mike DuPont of South Street and Art Murphy of Prospect Avenue, hoping to end their party’s five-year monopoly on the governing body.

“Let your vote allow me to be your voice,” Viscomi asked the audience of about 75.

Murphy, though, disputed the notion of groupthink on the governing body.

“I don’t agree with Ms. Viscomi as far as when she says we are all one-sided up on the council,” he said in his closing statement. “We have our differences.”

Hosted for the sixteenth year by the Westside Community Group, the event prompted questions that ran the gamut from serious to silly.

One woman asked why her water “tastes and smells so bad” and when her road, Highland Place, would be repaired. Murphy and DuPont were at a loss to explain her water problem, and said they would look into it; Murphy noted that Highland Place is on the road program list of streets to be paved soon.

Next came a question about rising tax rates. DuPont, who heads up the council’s finance committee, responded that the borough has taken steps to prevent another tax increase. He noted that the debt-rating agency Moody’s recently changed its outlook on the borough’s finances to positive, from negative, and said, “we have reduced our debt over 30 percent in the last five years.”

Viscomi countered that voters should take a look at the details behind the Moody’s rating, and questioned the borough’s spending.

In response to a questioner asking whether he planned to continue taking health benefits from borough, Murphy responded that he would. He said that although the issue comes up in every election, “I’m voted in every time I run.”

Resident Richard Murach injected some humor into the debate by asking Murphy, “What’s your favorite color?” Murphy answered “blue.’’ Then Murach asked why his sewer and water rates are so high. DuPont and Murphy argued that maintaining a borough-owned water utility was the cheapest option for residents.

One woman questioned Viscomi’s purported commitment to the school system in light of the fact she has only served one year of her three-year term on the Board of Education, which she would leave should she win the election.

Viscomi replied that being on the board gave her the opportunity to see a bigger need within the town, and that her stint with the schools would help facilitate communication between the board and the council.

DuPont and Murphy said they stand on the platform of responsible fiscal management of the budget in hard economic times. DuPont said they are proud of what they have done so far, but their vision is not complete.

Viscomi said her presence on the council would bring a different voice, fresh ideas and new options.