By JOHN T. WARD
The two Red Bank council candidates challenged the Democratic incumbents to a debate Wednesday, one day after a meet-the-candidates event at which the Dems were no-shows.
GOP contender Sean Di Somma called the absence of Juanita Lewis and Ed Zipprich “sad and shameful,” adding that they’d “pulled a fast one on Red Bank residents” by canceling at the last minute.
Zipprich told redbankgreen earlier on Tuesday that he was attending to a family medical issue, and Lewis told the Westside Community Group that she couldn’t make their Tuesday event because she was “pulled away on business,” said event moderator Amy Goldsmith.
The morning after the event, which drew a packed house at the River Street Commons, Di Somma and Schwabenbauer issued a joint statement challenging their opponents to a “tele-town hall” debate.
The format “would enable residents of Red Bank to receive a phone call asking them if they would like to participate,” Di Somma said. “They would also be able to ask questions of the candidates via telephone. The call would be broadcast to every phone number in the borough,” and the GOP would pick up the associated costs, according to the offer.
Lewis and Zipprich did not immediately respond to an emailed request by redbankgreen for comment.
Local Republicans claim the Dems are ducking them to avoid giving the challengers any momentum going into next week’s election. The most recent scheduled council meeting, on October 22, was canceled due to a lack of a quorum. The council’s lone Republican, Cindy Burnham, said she suspects the inability to muster enough Dems had to do with her announced plans to publicize findings from her year-long study into water and sewer rates.
In the week since, Republicans have seized on Lewis’ attendance record. GOP loyalist Sue Viscomi said her research shows that three times since 2009, the Democrats have failed to muster a quorum for the last meeting prior to the election, and that Lewis has never attended the last council meeting before an election. Lewis is also known to arrive late for meetings and frequently participates by phone link, she said.
During Tuesday night’s event, Di Somma alluded repeatedly to Zipprich’s and Lewis’ absence. At one point, he concluded an answer to a resident’s question by saying he didn’t know Lewis’ position on a matter, “but maybe if you go to the next 12 council meetings, you’ll catch her at one.”
In Wednesday’s statement, Di Somma said that while Zipprich and Lewis couldn’t make it to candidates’ night, “they are out knocking on doors every other evening. If they have time to organize phone banks and knock on doors, they should be able to find time to debate.”
Regarding his offer of a telephonic debate, he said, “particularly for Juanita, who dials in to Council meetings instead of actually attending, this should be in her comfort zone.”
Schwabenbauer took a softer approach.
“I regret their absence last night,” she said in the statement. “It was not the open discussion that the residents who attended expected or deserved. I am hopeful that those who attended and got to know Sean and me a little better found that useful, but their time would likely have been better spent hearing contrasting views that could better inform their voting decisions.”