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RED BANK: CANDIDATES JOSTLE FOR POSITION

red-bank-lwv-040323-500x313-4665120All council candidates participated in the League of Women Voters’s online event. (Photo from Zoom. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

election-2023_candidates-220x189-9561610Thirteen candidates for Red Bank council sought to make an impression on voters during a fast-paced candidates showdown Monday night.

The occasion was an online event hosted by the hosted by the League of Women Voters of Monmouth County, the first of two planned showdowns ahead of an historic election May 9.

The forum featured all 15 candidates, consisting of two slates headed by mayoral candidates Tim Hogan, of Hudson Avenue, and incumbent Billy Portman, of John Street, as well as an independent council candidate. All are running in the May 9 election for a new form of municipal government to be seated July 1. (See redbankgreen‘s report on the mayor’s portion of the event here.)

Hogan’s “Red Bank Together” ticket includes Michael Ballard, of East Bergen Place, now in his second term on council; first-term council members Jacqueline Sturdivant, of Prospect Avenue, and John Jackson, of East Bergen Place; Sean Murphy, of Throckmorton Avenue; Linda Hill, of McClaren Street; and Erin Fleming, of River Road.

The “Red Bank’s Ready” slate, topped by Portman, includes second-term councilmember and Democratic party Chairperson Kate Triggiano, of Leighton Avenue; Ben Forest, of Locust Avenue; Kristina Bonatakis, of Riverside Avenue, Nancy Facey-Blackwood, of Chestnut Street; David Cassidy, of McLaren Street; and Laura Jannone, of East Bergen Place.

Running unaffiliated under the banner of “Dedicated to Representing Red Bank” is council candidate Suzanne Viscomi, of Cedar Street.

Among the highlights:

• Fleming, answering a question about cannabis dispensaries, said “the thing about government, generally, is that it necessarily has to be cautious, and move a little bit slower than you would normally like. The beautiful thing is we do have other states and other towns we can use as examples to evaluate, do some research, see what’s going to work. Then, I think, you start out a little bit more restrictive, so that in the end you can loosen it up.”

• Viscomi drove a message of “taxes, enforcement and showing up.” A longtime member of borough board of education, she said Red Bank’s most pressing issue is “communication.” At present, “sometimes the council can’t agree if it’s raining outside,” she said. “We need to be mature, respectful.”

• Triggiano said that after years of “reform” and addressing holdover problems from the past, “we’re just at the point where we can actually get to the good stuff, where we can accomplish” improvements to municipal facilities, Marine Park and infrastructure.

“You can thank the people on the Red Bank’s Ready team for getting us to this point,” she said. “Whoever is on the council come July, they’ll actually be able to execute these projects because of that work.”

• Ballard said he brings “fearless leadership” to the dais, and cited his role in the council’s adoption of new laws on short-term rentals and cannabis zoning, “both passed over strenuous objections of the current mayor,” among his accomplishments.

Though he voted in favor of the borough’s 2021 cannabis ordinance, “I do think, in retrospect, that it was too broad, and needed to be reined in,” Ballard said. “And I am proud to take the bull by the horn to rein it in, to limit the number of licenses, to limit how close to parks and schools that cannabis retailers can operate.”

• Facey-Blackwood described herself as “a policy-focused, tireless researcher, fierce advocate for the environment, my community, as well as for transparent and efficient government.”

An “even better” Red Bank, she said, requires a council “that prioritizes efficiency over chaos, transparency over secrecy and function over dysfunction.”

• Sturdivant cited her work in bringing the council into the hybrid meeting era, and said several times that Red Bank needs “to have some kind of collaboration with our neighboring towns” on traffic matters “so people aren’t stuck at the same intersections.”

• Bonatakis, who works as chief of staff at a software company, said a specified distance between cannabis shops and schools “absolutely needs to be in the ordinance.” But “all of the additional content that has been shoehorned into this ordinance” is “creating a wedge” between residents and is “almost guaranteed” to trigger litigation, she said.

• Jackson said he is, and will continue to be, “collaborative, flexible and prioritizing Red Bank,” and said the 2021 cannabis ordinance needed revision because it “was not putting Red Bank first.”

• Cassidy, a member of the planning board, 34:00 said he is “the only official, elected or appointed,” who opposed the 2021 cannabis ordinance.” and said Ballard had voted for it, before deciding this year to reverse direction in order to make it a “wedge issue during a campaign season. Don’t fall for it,” he said.

• Murphy, a member of the zoning board, said the town needs to hire a businesses administrator, because “enforcement is not happening.”

He also stressed a need for “alignment” of traffic lights on state, county and local roads to ease congestion.

• Jannone said she is “very concerned about Marine Park,” and a 2019 makeover plan for the riverfront property “that has never been executed.”

• Hill, who introduced herself as “a mom, a nonprofit executive, an entrepreneur and a pharmacist,” said Red Bank “is doing a good job” regarding affordable housing, which she distinguished from “housing affordability,” which she said “means that people can actually afford to buy homes here with the middle income that exists in Red Bank. I think we’re really pushing that envelope especially with our taxes.”

• Forest said the council’s “most pressing” need is to hire a business administrator and established a process to review that official’s performance.

As a member of the Charter Study Commission, Forest said, “I was really appalled to find out that there was really no systematic evaluation of our chief administrator, and so a lot of things won’t be happening because of that. That will be corrected if I’m serving on the Red Bank council.”

All candidates responded “yes” when asked if they would vote to move the municipal election date back to November.

Video of the event is available here.

On Tuesday, April 18, redbankgreen is scheduled to hold an in-person forum, “Faceoff Over Red Bank’s Future.” Details about the event, which will be aired live via Zoom, can be found here.

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