Ingrid Garcia says this video she recorded shows Little Silver GOP Chairman Stuart Van Winkle harassing her and her husband in their shop. (Video by Ingrid Garcia. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
The mom-and-pop owners of a Little Silver auto detailing shop say they have come under attack by supporters of Mayor Bob Neff in recent days for supporting his challenger in next week’s Republican primary election.
Exhibit A, they say, is a video showing them in a tense confrontation last Thursday with local GOP Chairman Stuart Van Winkle.
Ingrid and Will Garcia, owners of Expert Detail and Auto Repair within the Sycamore Avenue Shell station, told redbankgreen that twice within two hours on May 23, they found themselves in face-offs for allowing Rick Brandt to post campaign signs on the property.
In the first incident, former councilman David Gilmour appeared at the shop “screaming, demanding to know who authorized this,” Ingrid said of the numerous Brandt signs surrounding the triangular property. The encounter was so “distressing” that she called the police, she said.
Gilmour could not be reached for comment Thursday. No charges were filed by police.
About an hour and a half later, Van Winkle arrived and also inquired about the signs, said Ingrid, who was taking care of her four-month-old daughter at the time.
Ingrid said she heard Van Winkle in the garage asking her husband about the signs, and so she grabbed a cellphone to record the above video, which she later posted on YouTube under the heading, “Political Extortion and Harassment.”
In it, Van Winkle begins by asking Ingrid, “do you have permission to put your signs up?”
“I didn’t know I needed permission to do anything,” she replies. “What gives you the right to come here and ask me in my business if I have permission?”
Van Winkle tells her, “we have had complaints in town about signs being put up without permission.”
The encounter quickly becomes tense as Ingrid calls the police again and Will Garcia accuses Van Winkle of sticking a finger in his face.
No charges were filed in that episode, either. Ingrid told redbankgreen she thought the police should have charged Gilmour and Van Winkle with harassment.
The Garcias, who live in Long Branch and opened their shop 18 months ago, said they have not had any prior involvement in Little Silver politics. They allowed Brandt to put up his signs last week because he had brought them into this month’s Taste of Little Silver business promotion event, which they said was a positive experience.
After the fair, Brandt asked for permission to put up signs on the property. “I said, ‘of course,'” Ingrid said. “He helped us spread the word about our business to the community. Why not?”
The issue being pressed by Gilmour and Van Winkle, she said, was not about the size or placement of signs. “The matter is, ‘how dare you put Rick Brandt’s signs here. The city is very unhappy.'”
“It’s not a coincidence these people came back-to-back,” said Will.
But that’s exactly what it was, Van Winkle told redbankgreen. He said he had “absolutely” had no idea about Gilmour’s visit, and that his decision to stop for gas and ask about the signs was “purely coincidental.”
He said he only wanted to know if the Garcias had allowed Brandt to erect the signs, so he could tell others in the community who were speculating about the answer.
“I thought they’d say ‘yes,’ and that would be it,” he said. But the encounter, he said, “was like hitting a hornet’s nest with a baseball bat.”
Had he known that Gilmour had already asked, he would not have raised the issue, Van Winkle said. Told that the couple were already upset by the prior encounter when he arrived, he said, “I can see why they would feel that.”
Asked why he didn’t drop the issue immediately when he saw the Garcias were distressed by his inquiries, Van Winkle said the situation escalated rapidly. “Within the span of 15 seconds, they’re calling the police,” he said, and he felt he couldn’t leave once they did.
The issue over the gas station flared as Brandt issued a 2,100-word press release Thursday saying his candidacy had uncovered “an underbelly of darker, manipulative, and unscrupulous political behavior” in Little Silver politics.
In the release, Brandt addresses some of the issues that arisen from his campaign, including a suspension from the volunteer fire department and a ban on entering school grounds, in both cases over his use of photos.
The release also alleges “repeated harassment of business owners by the local GOP Republican Chairman” and “the one-by-one banishment of Brandt from the organizations Rick has so tirelessly given years of service to.”
Here’s the full release: Rick Brandt release 053019
Nick West, a former Little Silver resident, told redbankgreen that he drove into town from Colts Neck Thursday to buy gas at the Shell station as a show of support for the Garcias, even though they don’t own or manage the fuel operation, after seeing what he called “harassment” on the video.
West said he’d also seen a young man jump out of a car two weeks ago to steal a Brandt sign from a lawn on Prospect Avenue.
“I have no horse in this race, nothing negative to say about the mayor,” West said. “But I think he should call his dogs off. What they’re doing to Rick Brandt is dirty politics at its highest level.”
Van Winkle said there is no effort among Neff backers to undermine Brandt’s candidacy, adding that the Republican committee had been fair to “all candidates.”
“It sounds like Rick is playing the victim card and trying to make his problems our fault,” said Van Winkle. “It’s looking like we made the right choice.”