From left, council candidates Kate Triggiano, Hazim Yassin, Sue Viscomi, Michael Clancy and Allison Gregory at the West Side Community Group’s forum Tuesday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
A management study that found widespread “dysfunction” in Red Bank’s government provided fodder for contenders at the annual Candidates’ Night hosted by the West Side Community Group Tuesday night.
In the case of Pearl Lee, the first Republican to challenge Mayor Pasquale Menna since 2006, it provided the spark for her to run, she said. For Menna, it’s a document he accepts “ownership” of. And all five council candidates alluded to it.
At stake in the November 6 election are the four-year mayoralty and two council seats, with terms of three years apiece. They’re being vacated by the governing body’s only two Republicans, Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan, who chose not to seek second terms.
On the ballot are Menna and fellow Democrats Kate Triggiano and Hazim Yassin; Republicans Lee, Michael Clancy and Allison Gregory; and independent Sue Viscomi.
Moderated by WSCG president Amy Goldsmith, Tuesday’s event featured opening and closing statements by Menna and Lee around a question-and-answer session. After about 40 minutes, the council contenders did the same.
Among the topics raised by audience members were candidates’ experience; pedestrian safety; affordable housing; the water utility; redevelopment; and schools.
One recurring topic was Government Strategy Group’s Management Enhancement Report commissioned by the council a year ago, which was sharply critical of borough hall operations. First-time office-seeker Lee said it “was a call to action, and I answered the call.”
“I’m taking ownership” of the management review, Menna said. Red Bank, he said, had been doing “business as usual” for more than a century until the review “rocked the boat.” He added the council has already begun addressing the report’s 70 or so recommendations, adopting about 20 of them since June.
Some notable moments from the two-hour event:
• Menna, a lawyer who served 18 years as a councilman before his election as mayor in 2006, defended taking a loan from a longtime friend; said the police are “doing all they can” to prevent pedestrians from being struck by cars, and cited his advocacy of four-way stops as an aspect of that effort; said the borough is in talks to resolve an affordable housing lawsuit; and said the best way to bring down taxes is to bring in new development of “underutilized property.”
Quote: “I appreciate that all the members of the council are doing the hard work that it takes to retool ourselves for the next generation — and that’s what it is: a bipartisan effort to move ahead for others who are going to be coming after me and after most of us.”
• Lee, a retired former owner of a video production company, said the prospect that Menna would be seeking another term without a challenger led to her candidacy; told separate questioners she didn’t” know much” about affordable housing or issues or recycling; and said that the “inefficiency” cited in the review was one reason taxes were rising.
Quote: “To have any kind of view for the future… town operations have to be running smoothly and efficiently, and [we must] try to get ourselves running like a machine, so we can face the future.”
• Clancy, a medical device salesman and member of the Housing Authority, said he does not favor the sale of authority property; said the borough needs a new Master Plan; and appeared to allude to a controversial text message he sent in 2017 when he acknowledged that the town is “divided,” saying “some of that’s my own fault, for things I’ve said and things I’ve done.”
Quote: “With the advent of social media, things get blown out of proportion. Talk to your neighbors… have a conversation, learn what’s in their heart.”
• Gregory, a real estate agent, said that after she learned she and her husband had bought the home the late Norma Todd, founder of Lunch Break, Todd became her role model; referred multiple times to unsafe, overcrowded homes and “boarding houses;” said the borough’s resources “are unevenly divided between east and west side;” said one of her opponents had “moved here with the express purpose of running for office,” and another was “more concerned with pipelines in North Dakota than making Red Bank more affordable;” and said the borough needs to be run more efficiently, as recommended in the report.
Quote: “The management report, as everyone has said, is scathing. That should be the focus of guidance of everyone on this stage tonight.”
• Triggiano, who chairs the Environmental Commission and serves on the zoning board, recalled working in retail jobs downtown as a teen; defended her involvement in the “inclusive town” movement to safeguard the rights of immigrants as “a token, but a good token;” spoke about the EC’s successful efforts to bring in $20,000 in grants; and said the claim that crime has increased as a result of an immigrant influx “is a false narrative.”
Quote: “We understand that [a seat on the council] isn’t a permanent position. This is a position that you come in and you leave things, and you leave them better than you found them.”
• Viscomi, an accountant who chairs the finance committee as a member of the Red Bank board of education, touted her independence and willingness to take a non-partisan approach to solving problems; said she has been attending and making suggestions at council meetings for years, “not just in September and October, scoring cheap political points;” said she’d brought transparency to local government by videotaping council meeting for posting on Facebook.
Quote: “Partisan politics is not needed in this town. Red Bank is better than this. Red Bank doesn’t need any fighting and arguing. Red Bank needs solutions.”
• Yassin, a financial representative who serves on the planning board, said “service” is the way in which he gives back “to the country that has given me so much;” said the borough needs smart development; He also lightly corrected audience members several times on the pronunciation of his name: HAH-zihm Yah-SEEN.
Quote: “One reason I came to this town was it represented the perfect microcosm of what I think America is all about.”