By JOHN T. WARD
Political neophyte Billy Portman claimed a landslide victory in Red Bank Democrats’ mayoral primary Tuesday night.
At the same time, enough members of an 18-candidate reform slate for the party’s county committee appeared to win races to ensure a change at the top of an organization Portman had criticized for “machine politics.”
“This was a massive landslide, a massive upset,” Portman told several dozen ecstatic supporters gathered at Red Rock Tap + Grill. “We couldn’t have sent a clearer message that we are done with the junk, we are done with the garbage. We’re going to change the way we do things in Red Bank.
“This is going to carry all the way into November, when we, hopefully, pass nonpartisan elections,” Portman said.
With all nine districts reporting, Portman held a 730-to-473 vote lead over second-term Councilman Michael Ballard for the party’s nomination to succeed Pasquale Menna as mayor, according to the tally on the Monmouth County Clerk’s election results website as of 11 p.m.
Ballard did not immediately comment, telling redbankgreen he “will wait until all votes are counted.” Still outstanding are an unknown number of mail-in ballots, which can be received up to six days after election day.
While Portman ran solo, Ballard’s two slatemates, Angela Mirandi and John Jackson, ran unopposed for two council seats, one of which Mirandi holds through the end of the year. As of 11 p.m., Jackson had 873 votes, six more than Mirandi, with 52 write-ins for others.
Portman would face Republican Brian Irwin in the November general election. Irwin, along with council candidates Jonathan Maciel Penney and Christine Stout, ran unopposed in the GOP primary.
Detailed results for the 18 seats up for grabs in the Democratic county committee races were not immediately available. But Portman said the returns indicated the slate, which he supported and ran with “loosely,” appeared to be taking the majority.
“If we do, that means we’ll be electing a new chairperson for the county committee,” Portman told the crowd.
The slate, which includes Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, had united around a pledge to oust Ed Zipprich as local Democratic chairman and redirect the party. Zipprich is also a council member and Ballard ally.
Announcing its formation in March, the slate described its members as “fed up” and eager to “bring transparency and end divisiveness” within the organization.
Among those Portman thanked for his victory were Triggiano and “a much-maligned voting bloc: the charter school parents,” of whom he is one. He called the group “a force to be reckoned with.”
Portman, 53, lives with his wife, Emily and three children on John Street. He’s a commercial building contractor who doubles as a singer in the cover band So Watt.
Throughout his brief campaign, the lifelong Democrat backed a call for nonpartisan elections, in which any adult resident who obtains a minimum number of signatures can run for office, bypassing the party vetting process.
Last November, borough voters approved the formation of a Charter Study Commission, which is expected to recommend a change in the form of government and a switch to nonpartisan elections. Voters would have to approve each in November referendums for the recommendations to be implemented.
Contrary to statements he made early in his campaign that he was looking to serve as a bridge mayor until a May election, Portman told redbankgreen Tuesday night that he’s now “not looking to duck out” after just five months if a nonpartisan election is held in May, 2023.
“This is a clear mandate from the voters of Red Bank,” he said. “I still have to win [the general election in November], and I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen from January to May. But unless something catastrophic happens, I’m looking to be running again in May. I’d like to finish a full term.”
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