Councilman Mike Whelan with Tiffanie Borges at the 2016 Mayor’s Ball, above. Below, then-Councilwoman Cindy Burnham at the same event with Industry magazine’s Anthony Barbera. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s semimonthly council meeting veered into Page Six territory Wednesday night when former Councilwoman Cindy Burnham suggested Councilman Mike Whelan was dating someone other than his longtime girlfriend.
Whelan was clearly shocked into damage-control mode when Burnham said had “heard” he was in a relationship with an unnamed employee of Bark Avenue Puppies, a store whose business would be affected by a proposed ordinance then under discussion.
“My concern, or my question, is not really related to the ordinance. But it’s related to the fact that Councilman Whelan is dating, and has been dating, a woman that runs a pet store,” Burnham said during the public comment period.
Whelan’s brows appeared to scrunch up.
“Right? Doesn’t she run Bark Avenue?” Burnham continued. “Isn’t her dad from Bark Avenue?”
“My girlfriend’s father owns a roofing and siding company in Long Branch,” Whelan said, prompting the audience to erupt in laughter.
“OK, my mistake,” Burnham said. “Last I heard, they were the owners of Bark Avenue. And all I was gonna say is that if that was the fact, then I would expect you to recuse yourself.”
Up next at the mic was Bark Avenue owner Gary Hager, who was seated inches from Burnham as she spoke. He began by looking toward his employees in the audience and saying, “everybody in the store cannot date Michael Whelan.”
Later in the meeting, Whelan revisited the topic, saying he wanted to make it clear on the record that didn’t know anyone who works in the puppy boutique and that he was still with his girlfriend of almost four years, Tiffanie Borges.
Whelan told redbankgreen Thursday that Borges had laughed off the insinuation when he told her about it afterward. “But we were both, like, where did that come from?” he said.
“To say something like that without even checking, it’s embarrassing, desperate, and once again, she shows she has no shame,” Whelan said of Burnham. “She’s the voice of the rumor mill.”
He said Burnham has known Borges since he ran for office in 2015, when he was on a ticket with Burnham. Borges was deeply involved in his election campaign.
“She’s known Tiff for over three years. When Cindy would knock on doors, Tiff would be there,” he said, adding that he’s “sure” he and Borges have crossed paths socially with Burnham since she was voted out of office in November, 2016.
Whelan said Burnham’s intent in bringing up his private life was consistent with other recent attempts by her to attack him personally, as when she suggested at a recent council meeting that he’d been “played” by Democrats on parking issues because of youthful naivete. Whelan is 26 years old.
Burnham did not apologize for Wednesday’s comment, he said.
Burnham did not immediately reply to a texted inquiry about her source for the claim, and whether she regretted asking the question.