By JOHN T. WARD
First-time GOP candidates Brian Hanlon and Kellie O’Bosky Colwell disputed the circumstances under which the event, billed as a “community conversation,” came together, leaving them unable to attend, they told redbankgreen. Their expected absence had been termed an “insult” by one of the event’s organizers.
But the event itself turned out not to be as partisan as GOP chairman Mike Clancy had feared, he said afterward.
Hosted by Pilgrim Baptist Church and Citizens for a Diverse and Open Society, the event was meant as a way for voters to meet candidates without partisanship getting in the way, said Pilgrim’s pastor, Reverend Terrence Porter.
“We’re here because we’re concerned about the divisiveness and obstructionist tactics” of politics and government, he told the audience.
Three of the five candidates on Tuesday’s ballot for council appeared at the packed-room event: Democrats Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom and independent Cindy Burnham. And among them, there was no discernible disagreement on issues.
Most notably, all three opposed designating a large swath of town extending from the downtown to Shrewsbury Avenue as an “area in need of rehabilitation,” as defined by state law [See redbankgreen’s coverage of the issue here.]
“Anything done in this district won’t have to adhere to our zoning laws,”Burnham told the audience. “They’ll have their own zonings laws.”
Horgan called the matter “troubling, because there hasn’t been enough discussion about what it’s going to be. I’m not for just ignoring the planning and zoning boards. That’s a big no-no.”
Yngstrom, who serves on the zoning board, said the boards “are there to be a watchdog. This is being pushed through too fast.”
Even Porter got in on the criticism, saying the “redistricting would eliminate the planning board and zoning board’s direct involvement.”
Afterward, Clancy called such talk “misrepresentations,” which he said he found “disheartening.”
“The zoning board and the planning board are not bypassed by this,” he said. “These laws have been on the books since 2013, and they should understand how they’re used. They’ve been used by every downtown in New Jersey except Red Bank.”
Clancy said the event began as nonpartisan, but “took a turn” when Porter allowed Alexandra Lewis, a borough resident and eighth-grader at the Rumson Country Day School, to recite an impassioned poem she’d written about her experience with racism. In it, she “unapol0getically” declared her pride in being black.
“She was very passionate,” Clancy said. “I don’t know if [the event] was the correct outlet for that.”
Still, he said he thought Porter was fair, overall, and the event “was better than I expected it to be.”
Meanwhile the two Republican candidates s disputed Porter’s version of when and how they’d been invited to the event, which they said they could not attend because of prior commitments.
On Monday, Porter teed up the GOP for what he claimed was a reversal: not planning to send its candidates, and said their absence would be an “insult” to the largely African-American church community.
Clancy, however, told redbankgreen that he “never told” Porter that Hanlon and O’Bosky Colwell were attending; and instead said he would discuss it with the candidates, who he said Monday “already had prior engagements.”
Hanlon told redbankgreen on Wednesday that he “first heard about” the event on Monday, the day after it was announced. And O’Bosky Colwell told redbankgreen that she “did not even get invited to the Pilgrim event until a few days before it was going to happen,” and said her opponents were “simply trying to use the Pilgrim event as a second chance to redeem themselves from their abysmal performance at the first debate.”