RED BANK: NONPARTISAN DRIVE TO KICK OFF

Red Bank’s ballots would be free of party lines if a push for nonpartisan elections succeeds.  (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

To spark debate over whether to make Red Bank’s elections nonpartisan, two lame-duck council members have slated a public-welcome event at a downtown bar next week.

On the agenda: policy discussion, a petition, plus complimentary food and drink.

Republican council members Mark Taylor, left, and Mike Whelan are behind the drive for nonpartisan elections. Independent council candidate Suzanne Viscomi, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

First-term Republicans Mike Whelan and Mark Taylor, who have both said they won’t seek re-election this year, have scheduled a “launch party” for their petition drive for Tuesday, May 15 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Red Rock Tap + Grill on Wharf Avenue. Details are here.

Taylor and Whelan announced the event under the umbrella of a Facebook page called Red Bank First, created “as a platform to say why we think this is good for Red Bank, put out some talking points and engage in community discussion, basically,” Taylor told redbankgreen recently.

“This is not about me, it’s not about Michael,” Taylor said. “This is really about the residents, and whether they want this. And if they want to, they can get up a petition and sign up their neighbors. We want it to be resident-driven, completely.”

“It need to be the will of the people,” he said. “If not, there’s no reason to do it.”

The GOP, having attained a council majority for the first time in a generation with the November, 2015 election of Whelan and Taylor, was back in the minority by the start of 2018. With the Democrats again in control, Whelan was bounced from the parking committee, which he chaired, and through which he had advanced a proposed solution to downtown parking issues, plans that the three council Democrats had opposed.

From a statement sent to redbankgreen by Taylor and Whelan on Monday:

The event is the culmination of a lot of conversations with residents and community stakeholders about how to best move Red Bank forward. Red Bank First means having candidates who are focused on local issues and not using their position to advance agendas driven by party politics. Red Bank First means electing candidates based on their vision for Red Bank. Red Bank First means removing labels from candidates to foster a better sense of community. Red Bank First means not having elections every year to allow elected officials to focus on solving the issues affecting Red Bank residents. Red Bank First means more opportunity for independent candidates and separating the vote from state and national elections in November.

Suzanne Viscomi, a longtime Republican party stalwart who is running for council as an independent, said in a press release issued Monday that she would prefer to see a “public discussion” on the issue before a petition is circulated in the hopes of obtaining 1,200 signatures, which would put the question on the ballot.

“The issue requires more attention than beer and wine,” Viscomi wrote. “Both sides should be represented to residents in order to make an informed decision.”

“Once again, the GOP wants to force an issue on the town without an open conversation,” Viscomi said.

But Viscomi’s campaign, said Taylor, “would be a direct beneficiary of the Red Bank First initiative and we hope she will join her fellow Red Bankers at the event.”

Tinton Falls, Asbury Park, Long Branch and Ocean Township use nonpartisan elections, under which municipalities hold their elections in either May or November, with candidates’s names appearing on the ballot without any mention of party affiliation. Proponents contend that opens up races for independents as well as partisans who fail to win local party favor.

Whelan and Taylor said that by making the switch, Red Bank residents would see less gridlock on the council.

“The residents of Red Bank will be able to put people over political parties, put Red Bank issues first and demand greater accountability for our elected officials,” they said on the Red Bank First page. “Our goal is to eliminate the partisan politicking that has plagued Red Bank for decades.”