By JOHN T. WARD
Former Red Bank Councilwoman Cindy Burnham got to be council president in 2016 only after agreeing to toe the line with her fellow Republicans, she claims.
Now, out of office for almost a year, Burnham is airing a backroom deal she entered with her party colleagues to attack onetime ally Linda Schwabenbauer over a purported lack of transparency.
But Schwabenbauer, seeking her second council term in Tuesday’s election, says the agreement isn’t the dirty laundry Burnham claims it to be.
Emails from Schwabenbauer to Burnham dated December 18 and 30, 2015, above. Below, Schwabenbauer, center, with Burnham and Mayor Pasquale Menna in August, 2014. (Photo below by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The issue arose during a candidate’s night at Celestial Lodge on October 28, at which Schwabenbauer and Michael Ballard were the only two office seekers in attendance. Schwabenbauer is running with newcomer Dana McArthur, and Ballard is on the Democrat’s ticket with three-term incumbent Ed Zipprich.
During a Q&A, downtown property owner Bill Meyer asked Schwabenbauer, “Why did you ask Cindy Burnham to sign an agreement that she would vote in lockstep with the Republicans in order to get appointed council president?”
“That’s not what the agreement said,” Schwabenbauer replied.
“What the agreement said was that we would respect each other when were on council; we would not attack each other when we were on the dais; that if we had disagreements, we would talk about them before we got to the meeting. But we did not ever require a vote in lockstep,” she said. “I personally opposed that,” she added.
“In fact, Councilwoman Burnham was upset with me about my first year because she wanted me to vote with her, and I didn’t want to do that consistently, and so that was an issue. So I would violently oppose anything that would require anybody to vote in lockstep.”
Meyer, an attorney, responded that the agreement “basically required [Burnham] to vote in lockstep with the Republicans.”
Last week, Burnham followed up with a series of Facebook posts aimed at undermining a Schwabenbauer claim that she doesn’t always vote with her fellow Republicans, Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan.
Alongside a photo of a December 18, 2015, email that Schwabenbauer sent to her, Burnham wrote on Facebook, “Schwabenbauer is a back door bully who thinks she knows more than everyone and that’s scary. Just read this letter for yourself and make your own judgment call.”
The pact required Burnham to refrain from criticizing her fellow Republicans from the dais, on social media, or directly to residents.
“Failure to live up to terms will result in a change of Council president mid-year,” it warned.
In an interview with redbankgreen, Burnham said she wanted to be council president because she’d be facing re-election in 2016 and thought the title would enhance her status. The position is purely ceremonial: the council president runs the agenda at council meetings in the mayor’s absence.
“Traditionally, it’s the person who’s up next for re-election” in the majority party, she said. She was also the senior Republican on the dais, having ended a five-year drought for the party.
But Schwabenbauer asked Burnham to meet with her after Burnham resisted going along with the party’s pick for borough attorney, Burnham said.
In a post on her Facebook page last Monday, Burnham wrote, “I agreed to these terms, knowing that it was illegal to do this.”
Burnham told redbankgreen on Tuesday that she didn’t intend to say she agreed to do anything unlawful.
“I agreed only because I knew they couldn’t sustain it,” she said. “There was no way they could hold me to it.”
Schwabenbauer, however, told redbankgreen that the flap is “much ado about nothing.”
The agreement, she said, “was documentation of a conversation we had at my house, and was just sort of a code of professional conduct.”
Asked if it required Burnham to vote the same way as other Republicans, Schwabenbauer said, “absolutely not.” In fact, it is Burnham who is upset because Schwabenbauer did not vote along with her, after Burnham brought her along politically, she said.
“She to this day believes I was elected to vote as she did,” Schwabenbauer said.
The GOP refused to renominate Burnham in the spring of 2016, and she ran as independent. She came in fifth in a five-candidate race.
Burnham said this isn’t the first time she’s made the emails public. “I put it out about two years ago, but nobody was listening,” she said.
She said she was again making a case about the matter because “I want people to see how clueless and how inept and insecure the Republicans are, to go to that length to make me fall in line with them.”