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RED BANK: PORTMAN ‘LISTENING’ TO MANDATE

billy-portman-052223-1-500x375-9380692Mayor Billy Portman meeting with a borough resident during his weekly open hours Monday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919Coming off a slam-dunk win in the May 9 election, Red Bank Mayor Billy Portman says he and his council running mates are gearing up to use the ‘mandate’ given them by voters.

That includes setting new priorities, he told redbankgreen in an interview Monday night.

billy-portman-050923-500x383-7109682Portman celebrating at Triumph Brewing Company on election night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

On a ticket with his his Red Bank’s Ready slate of council candidates, Portman – after just five months in office –  won re-election with nearly 61 percent of the vote, easily beating Riverview Medical Center President Tim Hogan.

Here are excerpts from the interview, conducted during Portman’s weekly open-office hours at borough hall.

ON THE ELECTION:

“I was relatively confident I would win, just because people voted for me just a few months ago: what changed? If Tim had been, you know, president of Barnabas, and he was living in Red Bank and running, it might have been a whole different race. But I really think the image of him running with the old guard, and the conflict of interest, which I think is genuine, nothing to do with him personally…”

“I was relatively confident we would have a council majority. But to go to a full-on landslide sweep, it was overwhelming. People are still stopping me on the street so excited. People are excited. And I’m like, now we have no excuses. So I’m telling you right to your face: If we screw this up, vote us out.”

(Though Hogan’s team did not issue an official concession statement, Portman said Hogan called him May 10 to wish him well and offer to help; all but two members of Hogan’s Red Bank Together slate also offered congratulations, he said.)

ON THE ‘MANDATE’ OF THE ELECTION:

“Clearly, there’s a hunger for change. It was easy to run as a change agent, but now we’ve got to define what that change is.”

“Top of our list” he said, are advancing the Marine Park and public utilities site projects.

“DPW is not the sexy one, but it’s just not safe. That’s what’s keeping the whole town running – cleaning the streets and giving us our water.”

Marine Park, he said, has “languished for too long.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing the day-to-day stuff,” he said. “We’re still going to make sure that the trash is getting picked up and the streets are getting cleaned. But as far as big-picture goes, this year, we’d like to see some movement on both of those projects.”

ON THE CHANGE IN MAYOR’S ROLE:

Effective July 1, a new “council-manager” form of government will replace the “borough” form in place since 1908. Among the changes it brings is a mayor who will have a vote on all matters that go before the council, rather than only to break ties.

“I just think I’ll be a little more effective, considering I ran with people I know I can work with. I don’t think they’re going to agree with me all the time, but it will be a much different tone of debate. I think I’l be more effective in guiding us to a solution for whatever problems come up.”

ON LESSONS LEARNED IN THE FIRST FIVE MONTHS AS MAYOR:

“The biggest lesson I learned is from these office hours,” he said. “People have been showing up. They want to be heard, they have an issue. Some people come to me with an issue they know I can’t even fix, but they want to make sure someone is listening, and that they’re not in this vacuum. I’m like the listener-in chief. And I want to make sure I keep doing that.”

“I’m finding the similarities to having a successful relationship, whether it’s with your kids or your spouse or your friends. It’s all the same thing. I’m listening to people, not pooh-poohing them. I can disagree with them respectfully, and just try to be honest.”

ON CHANGES TO BOARDS AND COMMITTEES:

“We will be looking at every board, every committee, making changes as we see fit. Looking at the professionals we hire – all that stuff is up, right? Attorneys, engineers, architects: we’ll be make a fresh decision on all of it. Some people will be staying in place, and some will, you know, we’ll be going in a different direction. But I think that’s part of the mandate. People are expecting to see some change in that regard.”

ON CHANGES TO BYLAWS AND ORDINANCES:

“We’re just sitting down now and starting to look at changes to the code [ordinances] that have to be made.”

“I don’t mind having bylaws, but we’re not going to have those bylaws,” he said, referring to council rules advanced by the current majority in January.

“Right away, I’d like to modify the AirBnB ordinance to allow owner-occupied” properties to offer the service, he said.

“I was just telling [a resident who stopped by his office], we’re working on active solutions to get landscaping trailers off the streets on the West Side. There’s plenty of day-to-day stuff to keep you busy, but we’re really concentrating on not losing focus on the big picture things like the DPW and Marine Park.”

The council’s regularly scheduled meeting of May 24 has been rescheduled for May 31.

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