sharon lee 090915Sharon Lee, flanked by Mayor Pasquale Menna and former Councilwoman Juanita Lewis, gets ready to swear the oath of office while Councilman Mike DuPont takes a photo. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


HOT-TOPIC_03For the first time in Red Bank’s 107-year history, women now outnumber men on the borough council.

Former Councilwoman Sharon Lee returned to the dais Wednesday night, following unanimous approval by the governing body to complete the three-plus months remaining in the term of former Council President Art Murphy, who resigned last month.

Lee joined councilwomen Kathy Horgan, Cindy Burnham and Linda Schwabenbauer on the dais for what proved to be a short meeting.

During the public comment portion, when Chestnut Street resident Arthur Hunnewell asked Lee if he could address her by her first name, she replied, with a laugh, “I kind of like the title.”

Neither the title, however, nor the women’s majority, will last long. Lee, a three-term Democrat who lost to Republican Cindy Burnham in 2013, is not on the ballot for the two seats open in the November election, in which all four candidates are men.

They are incumbent Democrat Mike DuPont and his running mate, Michael Ballard; and Republicans Mike Taylor and Mark Whelan.

Mayor Pasquale Menna, who has been friends with the 59-year-old Lee since they were children growing up on the West Side, nominated Lee, after the local Democratic committee submitted three contenders for the vacancy.

“It always makes sense to fill [council vacancies] with individuals who have been proven leaders,” said Menna. Lee, he said, had served the town with “unbridled dignity.”

Menna also appointed Lee to succeed Murphy as liaison to the police and volunteer fire departments, a job that comes with the statutory title of police commissioner. It is the first time a woman has served in that role, Menna said.

Lee won’t succeed Murphy as council president, however. That designation of the official who fills in for the mayor when he is absent was given to Horgan last month.

Red Bank has had one woman as mayor in its history: Katherine Elkus White, who served from 1951 to 1956. She was later appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve as Ambassador to Denmark.

Lee also serves as a member of the zoning board in a term that runs through 2018.