Jonathan Maciel Penney. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
Red Bank voters will choose two council members for three-year terms in the November 5 election.
On the ballot are incumbent Democrats Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom and Republican challengers Allison Gregory and Jonathan Maciel Penney.
redbankgreen sent all candidates written questions. Here are Penney’s responses.
Name: Jonathan Maciel Penney
Address: 55 Prospect Avenue, Apt. 12
Where did you grow up? Lincroft, N.J.
Where did you go to high school? St. Andrew’s School
Did you graduate from college? If so, which school, with what degree?
I graduated Northeastern University 2007 and the Ave Maria School of Law in 2011. I have both a B.A. in History and a J.D. I am licensed to practice law in New York and New Jersey.
Have your served in the military? If so, which branch and when? No.
How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? My fiancée Liza and I moved into our current residence in May 2015.
Do you own real estate in town? No.
What do you do for a living? I am a staff counsel attorney for GEICO.
Please tell us a little bit about your community involvement efforts, if any: I serve as counsel to Monmouth County’s Young Republican Club.
Party affiliation: Republican
How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party?
As a Mexican-American, I can certainly relate to people’s frustration with partisan identities. However, I am proud to be a Republican, just as much as my fiancée is a proud strong-willed democrat. That being said, national politics have no place in Red Bank. The Council has hidden behind national political issues for years to help hide their systematic incompetence. That is something I will never do. I’ll never let my party get in the way of my commitment to Red Bank politics.
I would also like to add that I have been incredibly heartened by the conversations I have had with Red Bank residents while campaigning door-to-door. In this toxic political climate, I was expecting some hostility, but I have to say, I have not really received any. These conversations and interactions have made me very hopeful and even more proud of our town than I had been when I started. Most everyone just wants what’s best for Red Bank. As do I.
Do you have a role model in public life? Who and why?
Among many other admirable figures both in and out of politics, I have always admired President George H.W. Bush’s career. He was a true statesman. To have accomplished as much as he did: fighter pilot, diplomat, legislator, CIA director, Vice-President, and President, is truly remarkable. I can admire anyone who used their privilege to commit to a lifetime of service.
Why are you running for Red Bank council?
When I was recruited to run, I felt that I was uniquely positioned as Red Bank’s first ever Mexican-American council candidate to make a big difference. I also know that the Council was desperate for some youthful energy and new ideas. As someone who feels Red Bank will be my forever home, I felt it was my civic duty to take on the challenge of making Red Bank a better place to live. I know I have the capability and intellect to do just that. Actions speak louder than words. You can’t just complain, you have to fight to make a difference in this world.
What are the most pressing issues facing the town, and how do you plan to address them? There are a lot of pressing issues facing Red Bank right now. In fact, there’s literally a forty-eight page report of issues facing the town.
Red Bank is unique in that it possesses many of the issues of both a city and suburban town. I plan on facing all these challenges the only way possible: with grit and determination. This council is stale. They have proven ill-equipped to handle all the complex and diverse issues facing this town-specifically on the West Side. Once on council, I will roll up my sleeves and help get to work cleaning up the mess they have made for us.
What if any specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?
One thing I think the members of the Council have forgotten is they work for Red Bank’s residents. To proclaim some sort of personal agenda would be a total misunderstanding of what a councilman should be. This is a people business. I will put residents and their concerns first. I want to make the council far more accessible than it is now. I want to always be able to give my fellow residents a personal touch. One constant refrain I’ve heard while knocking on doors is that the Council just doesn’t listen. I will.
I will also try and make sure that council meetings are a more productive forum for the council and residents to interact. I think it’s embarrassing how few people show up to these meetings. I’m sure the council enjoys the apathy. I also think it’s a disgrace that there aren’t interpreters available at council meetings so our Spanish-speaking residents can feel welcome and voice their concerns. I want to create a dialogue in this town. I want to webcast our council meetings and summarize the minutes so people can better understand and participate in what happens in our town. I want people to feel like they are part of one Red Bank community. Too often Red Bank is treated separately as East Side, West Side, and Downtown. I will fight to bring us all together.
Which if any borough committees would you want to serve on as a council member, and why?
Can I be on them all? I’m young and ready to work! But seriously, I think there are several which would suit my strengths. As an attorney who used to make appearances in Brooklyn Landlord/Tenant Court, I think I could be an asset to the Rent Leveling Committee. I absolutely am intrigued by the Human Relations committee. I think I can do a much better job of celebrating our diversity than the current administration. I think what the Council has done to chase our once proud African-American community out of town over the last 30 years is disgraceful. In 1990 we had 26% African-American Population, in 2000 it was approximately 20%, and in 2010 it was 12%. And it’s likely to be single digits come the 2020 census.
I would also love to be a part of the Parks and Recreation Committee. I want to make sure children on the West Side have more open space to play. I also want to help fix the Red Bank Community Garden tragedy. If there’s one image I will never forget from this past year, it’s the image of watching the gardeners of the Red Bank Community Garden asking the Council for answers regarding the contamination of the garden and then subsequently watching the Council hide behind their lawyers. This kind of lack of communication would never happen when I’m on council.
Do you believe the borough council has responded appropriately to the Management Enhancement Report issued in June, 2018? Please explain your answer.
In short, no. It’s also astounding to me that anyone would want to reelect the same people who got us into this embarrassing mess in the first place. Why would the Council change? This form of government has allowed this Council to grow rotten to the core. They no longer work to improve Red Bank. Rather it’s become a cycle of self-preservation highlighted by an utter lack of transparency. There is no opposing voice to the Council’s agenda. When on Council I will fight to ensure everything in the Management Enhancement Report is addressed.
Please tell us what you will do in the next three years to contain or reduce the municipal tax rate:
I think it is incredible that Red Bank has some of the highest property taxes in Monmouth County. The culprit? The Council’s mismanagement. The first thing I’m going to do is fight to end the inefficiency and wasteful spending by the Council. I am also going to reestablish better relationships with our neighboring towns, which the Council has squandered over the years. We waste a lot of money by not being able to share services. I will fight to rectify that as it will save us a lot of money. When on Council, I will make fighting to join the County Emergency Dispatch service a priority.
I will also make sure Red Bank no longer wastes money hiring “experts” for projects that go nowhere. Enough is enough.
Is there a shortage or parking downtown, and if so, what if anything should be done to address it?
Honestly, based on my conversations door-knocking, people in this town are so over the debate about parking. And they’re definitely over the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Council spends on consultants for parking studies with recommendations that never get implemented. The findings of our latest parking study (published in January 2019) which everyone agrees on, is that Red Bank’s parking program is broken. The parking study recommended that the number one thing Red Bank should do is hire a parking director. They also recommended multiple tasks to complete in the next 12 months, many at no cost. Showcasing the council’s typical ineptitude, the Borough has accomplished virtually none of them and has decided to forgo hiring a parking director. I think the parking mismanagement has directly lead to many of the long-term vacancies we have seen in downtown.
We have a clear roadmap to improve parking if we only had a council with the competence and common-sense solutions to follow through on it. There is no reason why would should delay on any of the no cost suggestions the parking consultant recommended. On day one, we will begin making strategic plans to implement as many of the other suggestions as possible.
Is Red Bank becoming over-developed? Do we have adequate infrastructure to handle the large-scale development approved and proposed in recent years?
Yes, I do worry about over-development. I worry that the Council has failed in having a long-term vision for Red Bank. They take the money and ask questions later. I worry that our infrastructure will be unable to keep up. We already know the traffic is bad. And it’s going to get worse with the possible addition of another big condominium complex at the VNA building site.
But most of all I worry about our two schools being able to keep up. As it is, there’s a funding question on the ballot this November simply for structural improvements to our schools. Any discussion about development and growing Red Bank’s population should be met with an eye toward doing what’s best for Red Bank’s families and Red Bank’s children. Any town’s pride should come first from its schools.
Is local government doing everything it can to make our roads safe for pedestrians and cyclists?
No. Red Bank does not promote enough of a walking culture. Nor do we have an adequate cycling culture.
The crosswalks in Red Bank are poorly maintained. They are so poorly maintained that we have seen crosswalks freshly painted mere days before roads are repaved. It’s an incredible level of inefficiency. I also think if Red Bank had a better walking culture, it would alleviate some of our parking issues if people can’t park immediately beside their intended destination.
I also think it would be worth exploring a shared bicycle system.
Should Red Bank embark on a charter study or take other steps toward a new form of government?
You mean should Red Bank consider the #1 recommendation of the management enhancement report? Yes. Imagine being given a list of all Red Bank’s problems and not addressing the inherent systematic problems which brought us to this point in the first place. The charter study would absolutely be a TOP PRIORITY for me to fight for on the council.
Should Red Bank switch to nonpartisan elections? Please explain your answer.
Absolutely, 110%. Blind partisan loyalties can only hurt the town—as the management enhancement report has proven. I come from a mixed-party household. And my fiancée and I have been knocking on doors together because we know most of Red Bank’s problems can be best solved with non-partisan solutions.
I’ll share a quick anecdote to prove my point. I was door knocking on Washington St. and I met a lovely woman who had a Horgan/Yngstrom sign on her lawn. I asked her what she thought about Red Bank Council’s failure to acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month. She replied “Let me guess, the council is all Republican?” I need not say more.
If you’d like to anything, please do so here:
First and foremost, I would like to thank God for allowing me the good fortune of this unique and challenging opportunity.
I would also like to thank my fiancée Liza Benovenli for her resolute support in this endeavor. I know due to our political differences she was initially skeptical, but she has been a true pillar of strength for me during the campaign.
I would also like to thank Allison Gregory for being an excellent running mate. Her energy is infectious. She has a wonderful family and I’m proud to have gotten to know her so well these past several months.
And lastly I would like to thank all the people I’ve spoken with while door-knocking. I’ve learned more about Red Bank and my community than I could have ever hoped. It’s been an absolute pleasure meeting everyone.
All four candidates are expected to participate in the West Side Community Group’s 23nd annual forum, scheduled for Thursday, October 24 at River Street Commons. Details (and a note about parking) are here.
Find the ballot here and polling stations below. Note that the 8th district will vote at borough hall this year due to construction at the senior citizens’ center.