By JOHN T. WARD
Rick Brandt’s absence occurred less than a week after he was banned from school property for events at which children are present over his unauthorized use of photos, redbankgreen has learned.
Appearing at the event, held at the Markham Place School for an audience that nearly filled the gym, were incumbents Mayor Bob Neff and his running mates, council members Don Galante and Corrine Thygeson. Brandt is running solo in the June 4 primary.
In response to a request for comment about his absence, Brandt told redbankgreen via email late Tuesday that “there were a number of reasons I couldn’t attend in good conscience.” He cited a lack of “neutrality” at the GOP-sponsored event; the “three-on-one” format, which he said was “not appealing from a matter of fairness or even from a matter of common sense;” and “mudslinging” by the local GOP committee.
“The bottom line is the Republican committee in town, from the moment I launched my candidacy, (and even before) has engaged in a consistent and concerted set of ceaseless attacks on my campaign and personal character,” Brandt wrote.”Removing or destroying hundreds and hundreds of my signs, intimidating business owners and friends in town for simply coming out in support of me – even threatening to boycott them and put them out of business! Not to mention the unending waves of baseless mudslinging. Mudslinging, you’ll note, that only goes in one direction – from them to me.”
Brandt said his participation earlier this month in a one-on-one mayoral face-off with Neff at the Alderbrook community center demonstrated his willingness to meet and debate Neff “on neutral territory.”
GOP chairman Stuart Van Winkle told redbankgreen that Brandt had expressed misgivings prior to the event and whether it would be slanted in favor of the incumbents.
Brandt’s absence was the latest twist in a campaign that has seen him clash repeatedly with local organizations over his unauthorized use of photos in his campaign. Since November, he has been suspended by the volunteer fire department; admonished by historical preservationists; and, last week, banned by Superintendent Carolyn Kossack to ban Brandt from “attending school or district sponsored events… with our children,” according to emails obtained by redbankgreen.
Kossack’s action came after she determined that Brandt had violated district policy through the unauthorized use on his campaign Facebook page of photos showing Markham Place School eighth-graders interviewing him last Wednesday.
In an exchange of emails the following afternoon, Brandt told Kossack that his use of the photos had been “severely misconstrued by individuals in our community.” The “punishment” she’d imposed on him was “saddening,” he wrote.
“I know the majority of your parents and students would not support this punishment because they know me and they know what I stand for,” Brandt wrote. “All I have ever tried to do and will continue to do is support the families in our community and be a positive role model for the next generation of Warriors. In the coming years, if I am elected Mayor of Little Silver and certainly as I begin to have a family and children, I would hope you would lift this restriction.”
Kossack, however, stood firm, and told Brandt, “I just can’t have you in the schools or at school-sponsored events.”
Three minutes later, Brandt wrote back: “I understand. Thank you, Dr. Kossack. Go Warriors!”
In a separate email to alert district employees to the ban, Kossack wrote: “Some of you may feel this is an extreme consequence, but Mr. Brandt does not have children in our school district, so there is no viable reason I can think of that would necessitate him being here.”
Brandt’s absence from candidate’s night turned what might have been a contest of résumés and agendas into something more like a town hall meeting than a debate for Neff and his two running mates.
Neff spoke about seeking a third term to take care of “unfinished business,” including a sidewalk project that could cost $3 million and the implementation of a newly settled affordable housing agreement.
Thygeson highlighted her efforts to ramp up communications between borough hall and residents in the aftermath of a divisive cell tower issue two years ago, and Galante touted efforts to keep a lid on taxes.
Among the questions from the floor was one from Bill Van Winkle about the proliferation of campaign signs, and their size, and what the incumbents might do about them. “It seems to me the sign sizes have gotten out of control,” he said.
“I have to tell you, I can’t stand them,” Neff said, even though his name is on many of them.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about making sure this never happens again,” he said, adding that any ordinances regulating campaign signs would have to comply with the First Amendment.