By JOHN T. WARD
A Menna Administration official and a Republican council candidate clashed at Sunday’s Red Bank Halloween Parade over campaign balloons.
GOP contender Linda Schwabenbauer said she believed she was exercising a First Amendment right and had borough authorization when she gave away about 200 balloons bearing her name and that of running mate Sean Di Somma to children and adults before the start of the parade.
But Parks and Recrecreation department director Memone Crystian told her to stop, threatening to call the police if she continued, she said.
Administration officials dispute the claim that they’d OK’d a balloon distribution, and contend they have the law on their side in asking Schwabenbauer to stop.
Schwabenbauer said she recognized the event was meant to be a “fun, family day” and wasn’t introducing herself as a candidate or otherwise politicking – just giving out balloons to parade participants as they lined up on East Bergen Place – when Crystian approached her.
“She said, ‘No, can’t do it, you have to go,'” Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen Monday. “She said,”it’s not political, it’s a fun, family day,’ and I said, ‘great, that’s why I’m giving away balloons.”
Schwabenbauer said Crystian told one of her campaign volunteers that she’d call the police if any more balloons were distributed, and “even asked me to collect back the balloons we’d already distributed.
“I gave her a flat “no” on that one,” Schwabenbauer said. “She said, ‘I need your word that you’re not going to give out any more balloons.'”
Crystian’s account of largely agreed with Schwabenbauer’s, except that she claimed not to have asked Schwabenabuer to recover the balloons already distributed. She said she acknowledged the impracticality of that.
Crystian said she was not confrontational, and was trying to avoid a conflict with children present. “But I told her that this is a community event, not a political event, and that it doesn’t allow political propaganda,” she told redbankgreen.
She said Schwabenbauer and Di Somma could have marched in the parade with a banner. The distinction, she said is in the candidate’s “possessing” a campaign banner versus “handing out literature, which is something different.”
Scahwabenabuer, a first-time candidate for office, contends she got clearance from borough hall in early September to give out balloons at the event. She said she asked borough Clerk Pam Borghi, who didn’t immediately know the answer, but called back a few minutes later to say she had checked with Mayor Pasquale Menna, who said it was allowed.
On Monday night, Menna, a lawyer, said he did not clear the distribution of campaign balloons, only “balloons and candy.”
“The courts have ruled it’s a sponsored event” at which the sponsors can restrict the distribution of materials, he told redbankgreen. “It’s common sense: you don’t give out political balloons at a children’s event.”
Menna, a Democrat, and several Democratic council members marched in the parade in their street clothes. The lone Republican on the council, Cindy Burnham, also marched, dressed up as Minnie Mouse.
The scheduling of the parade was announced earlier this month in a press release with this opening sentence:
Councilwoman Juanita Lewis, Chair of the Parks and Recreation committee and The Department of Parks and Recreation wish to invite all to attend the 67th Annual Halloween Parade on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 (with a rain date of Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014).
Lewis and fellow incumbent Democrat Ed Zipprich face Schwabenbauer and Di Somma in the November 4 election. Menna is seeking a third four-year term as mayor, but has no opponent on the ballot.
The candidates are scheduled to meet at the 18th annual candidates’ night sponsored by the Westside Community Group at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28, at the River Street Commons, 49 Catherine Street.