Democrats Angela Mirandi and John Jackson at Jackson’s home Tuesday night. (Photo from John Jackson. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank voters appeared to have stuck with Democrats in Tuesday’s election – while also clamoring for both a new form of governance and a wider field of future candidates.
At the same time, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to overhaul the town’s form of government, and elected as mayor political newcomer Billy Portman, who ran unopposed on a platform pushing for the history-making changes.
Mayor-elect Billy Portman, left, with Mayor Pasquale Menna at a campaign celebration at the Dublin House Pub Tuesday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
With early in-person and election day in-person ballots from all nine voting districts tallied, Mirandi and Jackson drew 1,707 and 1,688 votes, respectively, topping Republicans Mark Taylor (1,551) and Jonathan Maciel Penney (1,459), according to the Monmouth County Clerk’s election website.
Still outstanding, however, were mail-in and provisional ballots, the total of which was not immediately available. Election law allows mail-ins to be counted as long as they were postmarked or dropped off by election day and received within six days.
A whopping 68.4 percent of 2,944 votes cast on the referendum went with “yes,” meaning the “borough” form of government in place since 1908 will end next July 1, to replaced by a “council-manager” form.
Late Tuesday, neither side in the council contest declared victory or conceded defeat.
“We’ll comment when all votes are final,” Jackson told redbankgreen via text, shortly after writing that he and Mirandi were “celebrating” at a gathering at his East Bergen Place home.
Taylor, texting from a GOP gathering at Red Rock Tap + Grill, wrote: “I’m not sure how many uncounted ballots are still outstanding, but we’re extremely proud that the referendum passed. That was our main focus and we couldn’t more excited for Red Bank’s long term future.”
Portman, who found himself on a clear path to succeed four-term Pasquale Menna as mayor after defeating Councilman Michael Ballard in the Democratic primary in June, had racked up 2,350 votes by late Tuesday, versus 88 write-ins, the clerk’s site reported.
At a gathering with several dozen supporters at the Dublin House Pub, Portman told redbankgreen his primary aim would be to restore peace after years of internecine battles on the dais.
“I’m happy to work with anybody,” he said. “When I got a [campaign] mailer from Mirandi and Jackson, the values were aligned. This was never about what we want for Red Bank, it was just how we’re going to deliver it. So I’m hopeful I can work with the existing council and the new council members. I’m just hopeful I can change the tone.”
Toward that end, he said he would “strongly encourage council members not to fight their battles online,” because “it just too quickly spirals into negativity.” In addition, he said he planned one-on-one meetings with council members to learn their legislative goals in search of “common ground.”
Approval of the referendum means that all three of Tuesday’s winners will have to run again in May if they hope to keep their positions. The same is true for the four council members not up for election this year. Portman has already declared he intends to run again.
In the interim, all seven governing body seats will be occupied by Democrats for the sixth straight year beginning January 1, though for most of that time the party has suffered from bitter internal splits.
Portman had pushed for the change in government form and, along with it, a change to nonpartisan elections, structured to help individuals get onto election ballots without the blessing of either the Republican or Democratic organizations.
Mirandi was noncommital on the issue, telling redbankgreen in a Q&A that she would “neither publicly support or oppose” it and instead leave the matter to voters; Jackson said he “aligned with” the Democratic party stance of not taking a position for or against.
Voter turnout ranged from a low of 32.2 percent in district 9 to a high of 52.8 percent in district 1, with an overall rate of 43.5 percent, the clerk’s office reported.
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