By JOHN T. WARD
Civility was top-of-mind for some of the 65 or so Red Bank voters who packed a room for the first of two candidates’ nights held Wednesday.
Following a late change of heart by two candidates, all four contenders for council seats, as well as the lone candidate for mayor in the November 8 election, were present.
As previously reported, Mirandi and Jackson were not expected to attend. In addition to objecting to the location – “I don’t think a bar is a conducive setting for a serious conversation and debate,” Mirandi told redbankgreen earlier this month” – she said didn’t believe event moderator Amy Goldsmith “can be considered a neutral. moderator” because she’s married to activist Ben Forest, a member of the recently reconstituted Red Bank Democratic Committee.
But the Democrats changed their minds after “agonizing” over the matter this past weekend, Jackson said in response to a question.
“We simply could not stand for people to hear one side of the story,” said Jackson.
Mirandi said she felt compelled to participate to counter what she called “blatant lies” advanced by her opponents.
“So far, so good,” she said, midway through the event, over the sound of customers chatting in the adjoining restaurant. “This is our test for having a debate in a bar. So I’m glad I came. I’m here for the residents.”
The WSCG event has traditionally been held at the River Street Commons, a senior citizen’s apartment complex. But this year’s event is being held at Triumph out of “an abundance of caution for the seniors,” Goldsmith told the candidates in an email.
From the floor, residents asked the candidates to weigh in on pedestrian safety; attention to the West Side; taxpayer support for the Red Bank Charter School and other issues.
A recurring concern, though, was rancor among elected officials. At various points, each candidate pledged to work with others, rather than butt heads.
“I don’t think the government is broken. It’s the people who are sitting on it,” said Adrienne Bilaal, of Pearl Street. “Can you see yourselves being civil to each other, working with each other, listening to each other?”
“Thank you for challenging us, and demanding as a citizen, what we should be providing you as sitting council members,” Jackson said in response.
Maciel-Penney said he’d like to see council meetings made “a much more welcoming space,” with coffee and donuts served and live translation available for non-English speakers.
Maciel-Penney, who serves as chairman of the local Republican organization, said the party had not planned to run candidates this year, but changed course after what he called “the chaos” surrounding the Democratic primary.
“We wanted to give voters a smart alternative,” he said.
Both Maciel Penney and Taylor identified as their top concern voter passage of a referendum to overhaul the form of government to a council-manager structure, in which an unelected professional steers the operation of borough hall without interference by elected officials.
“Our signs say ‘vote yes’ at the top of the signs,” said Taylor, a former one-term councilman who served on the five-member Charter Study Commission, which recommended the referendum. “The only thing we want to see happen in November, other than to get elected ourselves, is that the referendum passes,” he said.
Before the council candidates took to the dais, Democratic mayoral candidate Billy Portman, running unopposed to succeed four-term Pasquale Menna as mayor, told the audience he supports the referendum, which he, too, expects to pass.
In light of that, he sees the role as as a six-month “caretaker” to the new form of government, though he would “absolutely’ serve a four-year term if the referendum fails, Portman said.
“I feel my role is to guide us through” until another round of elections in May, for all government seats, Portman said. “Whoever ends up winning this race, I’m happy to work with them to make Red Bank a better place.”
Video of the event, courtesy of Sue Viscomi, can be found here.
Voters will get a second chance to question the council candidates Saturday at 3 p.m., when the League of Women Voters of Monmouth County hosts a virtual forum. Because he has no opponent, Portman was not invited to participate, according to the LWV’s announcement of the event issued.
Questions must be submitted in advance, at the time of registration via Zoom. Afterward, video will be available here.
If you value the news coverage provided by redbankgreen, please become a financial supporter for as little as $1 per month. Click here to set your own level of monthly or annual contribution.