See UPDATE below
By JOHN T. WARD
Citing political “divisiveness” and “toxic rhetoric” about his recent marriage, Erik Yngstrom resigned from the Red Bank council Wednesday morning.
His departure from the all-Democratic governing body sets the table for a possible power shift back to party regulars headed by Councilman Ed Zipprich, an outcome Yngstrom said would only make things worse.
Yngstrom at a 2017 council meeting with fellow members Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich, above, and nearing the finish line at the Red Bank Classic 5K in 2019, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
In a letter addressed to Mayor Pasquale Menna and borough residents, Yngstrom said he had resigned, effective immediately.
“I am saddened that it has come to this. I have truly enjoyed serving the Borough of Red Bank, the local businesses and, most of all, its great residents over the past five years,” he wrote. “I tried to set an example for others that hard work and civility can get things done in this town. I also thought it was very important to be open-minded and work with anyone who wanted to help Red Bank, regardless of their party affiliation.”
But the council has “strayed far” from a collaborative mindset, he wrote, and now seems “more focused on political gains and people trying to keep their perceived political power.
“I am not sure where we went wrong but this divisiveness needs to stop, and the best interests of Red Bank need to be put first,” he wrote.
Here’s the full letter: Yngstrom Resignation letter 011922
Zipprich, who serves as chairman of the local Democratic organization, did not immediately respond to a redbankgreen request for comment. SEE BELOW
Over the last two years, Yngstrom, Council President Kate Triggiano, Councilwoman Kathy Horgan and former Councilman Hazim Yassin often voted as a bloc on the opposite side from Zipprich and Councilman Michael Ballard. The two sides split over budgets, repairs to the Senior Center and more.
But with Jacqueline Sturdivant‘s defeat of Yassin in last June’s Democratic primary, with backing by Zipprich and Ballard, the two camps are now evenly matched in number, meaning Menna would likely be called in to as a frequent tiebreaker.
Menna had to do so in the first five minutes of the council’s reorganization on January 1, when he broke the tie on a motion that usually garners a unanimous vote: who would serve in the ceremonial post of council president for the year.
“I didn’t think I was going to do this this early,” he said, voting for Triggiano.
In his letter, Yngstrom predicted a shift in power and more schisms.
Unfortunately, the impact of my resignation at this time will trigger an action by the local Democratic Chair wherein he will set forth three handpicked suggestions to replace me for the rest of the year. Those three candidates will then be voted on by the sitting Council, which he is part of and now has a three-to-two advantage. Rather than working together and bringing people together, the Democratic Chair is likely to use this situation to make town politics and council even more divisive.
Yngstrom endorsed the Charter Study Commission, which is reviewing the municipal government structure for possible reform, as “the only way for us to put the interests of all of Red Bank over the interests of a few.”
Also during the reorganization session, Branch Avenue resident Marybeth Maida and Wallace Street resident Cindy Burnham, a former council member, claimed Yngstrom no longer lives in Red Bank. They cited his recent marriage to a woman who owns a home in Wall Township.
Maida accused Yngstrom of “lying” about his residence, and Burnham called his continued service “a corrupt move.”
Burnham also claimed Yngstrom was building a house in Colts Neck. “I am not building a house in Colts Neck,” Yngstrom told redbankgreen in response.
In his resignation letter, Yngstrom wrote:
Despite recently getting married and making extraordinary arrangements with my new wife to fulfill my full term in Red Bank through the end of this year, a few misinformed individuals have alleged that I no longer live in Red Bank. This is simply not true. However, I cannot allow my family to be subjected to this toxic rhetoric and behavior.
Horgan, the council’s senior member, sent this comment to redbankgreen:
I am saddened that it has come to this. Erik was an exemplary councilman — a smart, level-headed, kind, generous individual who cared about Red Bank and not his political future. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. And he doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. The desire to destroy a person’s reputation is beyond tolerable. Beginning now I am making a clarion call to all Red Bank residents. Keep an eagle eye on the shenanigans that will henceforth be prevalent with the new majority on Council. The Red Bank Democratic Municipal Chair and his lackeys are bent on burning down the town rather than getting things done in order to maintain their self-serving control and power. A non-partisan form of government is the only alternative at this point for Red Bank to move forward in a positive way and to be the best place it can be for its residents.
“Councilman Yngstrom served our borough with integrity and kindness and always put the community first,” Triggiano told redbankgreen via email. “His calm presence and openness to new ideas will be missed by those working hard to move Red Bank forward. I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve with him.”
UPDATES: Ballard sent this statement shortly after publication of this article: “I would like to thank Erik for his many years of dedicated service to the Borough of Red Bank, I supported Erik in both his 2016 election and 2019 re-election years and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”
From Zipprich Wednesday afternoon:
I wish Erik every happiness in the future.
I have fully supported Councilman Yngstrom in both of his campaigns for election and am grateful to him for his service to our community.
There is no majority or minority on this council — we are all Democrats who bring a variety of perspectives to the table for the betterment of our town.
Over the past two years I have been focused on:
A. Getting the Senior Center refurbished and reopened to serve our residents
B. Enacting policies that will enable us, as a well-governed municipality, to benefit from the American Rescue Plan and Build Back Better program
C. Seeing the new team working on the Master Plan to effectively plan Red Bank’s future for the next 25-30 years
I believe this council is united in our desire to accomplish these goals and look forward to working together to take Red Bank further into the 21st century.
Menna told redbankgreen late Wednesday evening that he was “saddened” by Yngstrom’s resignation, but understood the reasons behind it.
“The atmosphere is divisive, and it is uncalled for, but it exists, and that’s as far as I’ll address,” he said.
Sturdivant did not respond to a request for comment.
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