AND THEN THERE WERE TWO

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Local Republicans Monday night disclosed the names of three possible replacements for Kaye Ernst, who quit her council seat earlier this month after little more than a year in office.

But by the time Councilman John Curley identified the three at a regular council meeting, one of them had already bailed.

Curley identified his party’s choices as Grace Cangemi, who narrowly missed winning a seat in the November election; Stephen Fitzpatrick, a regular at council sessions who has been critical of the Democratic majority’s campaign fundraising and record-keeping; and Anthony Tamburri, a son-in-law of the late mayor and Judge John Arnone.

Curley described all three as “articulate, intelligent and passionate.”

It turned out, though, that even before Curley spoke, Tamburri’s passion had faded, and he’d decided he didn’t want the job after all.

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SOUTHIE ALERT: HERE’S YOUR CHANCE

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Remember last September’s mini tax rebellion, the one led by residents of South Street ticked off about their property tax bills?

Well, the Southies and anyone else with gimlet eye for government fat and waste will get a chance to help shape the Red Bank borough budget in a way not previously available to the citizenry, elected officials say.

The borough council’s finance committee will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, March 6 at 5:30p to discuss the budget outlook and to solicit input from taxpayers.

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ZAZZALI BRINGS HOME BACON FOR JUDGES

State Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali, who’s been agitating lately for better pay for judges, appears to have made a persuasive case to Gov. Jon Corzine.

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The Star-Ledger reports today that Corzine’s budget proposal, disclosed this week, “includes money to raise the pay of state judges, the first installment of a three-year plan to bring them up to parity with the federal judiciary.”

More from the story:

During a meeting with the editorial board of The Star-Ledger, the governor said he has agreed to a request by Chief Justice James Zazzali to begin boosting the pay of state judges. A Treasury Department spokesman later explained that the budget includes language authorizing the Judiciary to raise salaries a total of about $10 million over the next three years.

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KA-CHING: DEMS SPENT BIG TO WIN

The Asbury Park Press has a story today on campaign spending in last year’s council and mayoral races in Red Bank showing that the Democrats — who won all three open seats — outspent the Republicans by more than four to one.

According to reporter Larry Higgs, the Dems, led by Mayor Pasquale Menna, spent $51,378, or $30.50 for every vote cast in their favor, versus $12,100, or $7.65 per vote spent by the GOP.

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‘NIGHT FOR DARFUR’ AT R-FH

It’s long been kind of an orphan among international issues, crying out for a solution. But the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan continues.

Indeed, there was this last week, from a New York Times story on efforts by the United Nations to put a fact-finding team on the ground there:

Andrew S. Natsios, President Bush’s envoy for Darfur, said Wednesday [Feb. 14] that pro-government Janjaweed militias blamed for most of the killing, raping and pillaging were planning new actions — a threat, he said, that could drive out aid workers and close camps, producing a “bloodbath.”

This Thursday WEDNESDAY night, a teacher and some students at Rumson-Fair Haven High School hope to call attention to the crisis. They’re hosting an event that’s free and open to the public at which a Darfurian will provide eyewitness accounts to what’s going on there. There will be other speakers, too, as well as photos from the refugee camps and means for participants to make relief contributions.

The event was the idea of two students who helped organize it with social studies teacher Megan Arnone, we’re told.

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RIVERCENTER PHASE II OK’D

Red Bank officials last night officially added dozens of West Side businesses to the roster of the 16-year-old Special Improvement District, an entity widely credited with having sparked a renaissance of the once-ailing downtown.

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The expansion of the district, which is managed by the non-profit Red Bank RiverCenter, attracted more acute opposition last night than a presentation on the issue did in November. But the endorsements of the plan were at least as emphatic as they were three months ago.

“We desperately need it on our side of town,” said Danny Murphy, owner of Danny’s Steakhouse on Bridge Avenue. “It’s time for our side of town to become one with the rest of the town.” (Click map on right to view larger image.)

The expansion, approved by a 5-1 vote, with Councilman John Curley casting the lone “no” vote, marks a partial vindication of business owners and public officials who approved a townwide SID in 1991, only to have that plan successfully challenged in court, leading to its curtailment.

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MIFFED MENNA: I GOT MINE, TOO

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Unelected Red Bankers aren’t the only ones reeling over the reassessment letters that landed in their mailboxes in recent days.

Mayor Pasquale Menna said he’s peeved that the letters went out without his approval, and were written, he said, in such a way that might mislead recipients into thinking that their property taxes are about to soar because the market values of their homes have risen so sharply.

“A lot of people at Borough Hall just don’t get it yet,” Menna told redbankgreen when we ran into him downtown this afternoon. “I only found out that the letter had gone out when I got one in the mail.”

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DISROBED ZAZZALI DAZZLES

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As expected, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice James Zazzali’s black robe came off at Brookdale Community College Thursday. And what was on display, in part, was the Rumson jurist’s wit.

“My wife said have a good day,” Zazzali told a standing-room crowd of about 300. “But I said I had other plans.”

Members of the college’s criminal justice club in particular were thrilled to have the court’s top decider visiting their campus. “This is phenomenal,” said club vice president Dan Burgess, as Zazzali autographed his program.

“We’re used to getting state police and U.S. marshals,” said president Adnan Bomova.

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FAIR HAVEN’S NEW EXEC IS 28

Fair Haven’s new borough administrator, hired last night by the Borough Council, is a 28-year-old woman with three years experience in municipal administration, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

Mary Howell replaces Julie Horner-Kiezer, who left last month to become borough administrator in Seaside Heights. Howell’s contract and salary haven’t been finalized, but officials hope to have those details wrapped up later this month.

From the Press:

Howell has been deputy manager in Eastampton Township, in Burlington County for the last three years. Before that, she ran a nonprofit in Charleston, N.C.

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PARKS & REC DUO BACK IN SWING

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The top two people at the Red Bank Parks & Recreation Department, whose names were curiously absent from the borough council reappointments list on Jan. 1, have gotten the seal of approval to remain in their positions.

Director Bob Evans and Assistant Director Tomora Young were reappointed by the council last week, following an oral report by Councilman John Curley on efforts to address issues raised by a recent audit of the department.

Citing personnel policies, borough officials are still rather vague about what the holdup was.

But redbankgreen has learned that the audit, completed in October, turned up some bookkeeping mismanagement issues in the department.

There was no suggestion of any type of malfeasance, Curley said.

“There were difficult problems of accounting procedures, and that’s about all I can say,” Curley told redbankgreen.

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BECK GRABS FOR NEXT RUNG

After just a year in Trenton, Red Bank’s Jennifer Beck has announced she’ll try to leap from the Assembly to the state Senate in November.

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According to a story in the Asbury Park Press, Beck said she’ll run for the 12th District seat now held by Sen. Ellen Karcher.

The Press reports that Beck announced her intent in a letter Monday to Monmouth County GOP chairman Adam Puharic a few days ahead of a Feb. 1 deadline with the county committee.

From the story:

In her letter, Beck cites a lack of leadership on the Senate side in the past year on several important issues to the district and the state, including school funding and busing; State law 1701 which restricts local school district spending; disposition of the Marlboro Psychatric Hospital property; improving exit 8 on the NJ Turnpike; and the Fair Haven cell tower land swap before the department of Environmental Protection.

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WESTLAKE GETS THREE MONTHS

Red Bank resident Jack Westlake, former president of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation, was sentenced to three months in federal prison and seven months home confinement Thursday for tax evasion.

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Westlake, 76, of Ambassador Drive in the Elk Ridge condo complex off Spring Street, had been prosecuted for his role in a corruption scheme that also involved former state Senate President John A. Lynch Jr. Westlake admitted failing to pay federal income tax on $350,000.

The plea was unrelated to Westlake’s role as a gubernatorial appointee to the six-member county tax board, which oversees local tax rates and rules on appeals of property tax cases.

From today’s report on the sentencing in the Asbury Park Press:

Westlake expressed contrition in his brief prepared statement.

“Words cannot express how much I regret having committed this offense,” he read, in a strong, steady voice. “This is the first time in the 76 years of my life that I have been in a courtroom.”

Westlake asked forgiveness from his wife, Marietta, and daughter, Lynn — both of whom were seated behind him — and said that he is “committed” to paying the rest of his back taxes.

“I ask the court to blend mercy with justice in my case,” he said.

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PRINCESS GRACE?

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Kaye Ernst wants Grace Cangemi to succeed her on the Borough Council.

But will Mayor Pasquale Menna and his Democratic majority risk giving the tailwind of incumbency to a Republican who came within a couple of dozen votes of winning the seat now occupied by Councilman Michael DuPont?

In filling the vacancy, the council gets to choose from three nomimees to be submitted by the local GOP leadership. Like Ernst, Councilman John Curley, the other Republican on the six-member body, has endorsed Cangemi.

Menna, though, is keeping his counsel about the presumed frontrunner for the spot.

“I don’t have a feeling for it,” Menna said Tuesday, when asked for his first-blush reaction to Ernst’s recommendation. “What Kaye Ernst expressed is a personal feeling. We can’t even consider until we get three names from the Republican Committee, and I have no idea whose names they’re going to be submitting.

“This is not a monarchy, and Grace is not the crown princess to the abdicated queen,” Menna said.

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ERNST RESIGNS; CANGEMI MAY GET SEAT

In a move that stunned her council colleagues, Kaye Ernst Monday night announced that she’s resigning and moving to Pennsylvania after little more than a year on the Borough Council.

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One of two Republicans on the six-member governing body, Ernst cited personal reasons for her decision, including past mistreatment by unnamed others on the council, taxes that have increased more rapidly than her income, and the needs of her retired parents, with whom she’ll be moving to Lord’s Valley, Pa., in the Poconos.

Ernst said that the political atmosphere at Borough Hall had begun to change for the better since the start of the new year, a turnaround she credited to Mayor Pasquale Menna. Still, she said, her personal circumstances compelled her to sell her house and move out of state.

“You cope with your fate as a matter of choice and not chance,” she said, “and I am making the choice to change my life. I no longer feel that I am able to live the life that I want to in the town that I love so much, and in fact, not in the greatest state in America, which is New Jersey. My parents have offered me their unequivocal love and support throught my life, and it is now my privilege to take care of them.”

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CODE WORD: ENFORCEMENT

Red Bankers have heard a lot about code enforcement in recent months. There appears to be a consensus that a lack of vigor in holding absentee landlords accountable for housing violations is at the root of rental-house overcrowding, particularly but not exclusively on the West Side.

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This, in turn, has contributed to challenges ranging from noise and litter to a burgeoning school population that does not speak English as a first language, imposing additional education costs on taxpayers, say critics.

Pat Menna ran for mayor promising to beef up code enforcement. Now that he’s taken office, what can residents expect in terms of action?

Some answers might be had tomorrow night at the River Street Commons when the Westside Community Group hosts a code enforcement forum beginning at 7p. The public is invited.

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SPHINX MAKES HISTORY AND SPEAKS

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The last time Sharon Lee was quoted in the Asbury Park Press, it was in the context of her work on the Planning Board. She suggested an applicant install an irrigation system to keep the lawn in front of his car dealership green.

That was 15 months ago.

This appears not to be a matter of selective coverage. Even regulars at Red Bank Borough Council meetings might not know the sound of Lee’s voice. Session after session, she sits silent as a sphinx except to record her presence and enter one-word votes. At Monday’s reorganization meeting, she was the only member of the council not to address an audience spilling out of the chambers into the first-floor foyer of Borough Hall.

Which was remarkable given that, at that very meeting, she was named president of the governing body, making history for both her gender and her race.

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KISSES ALL AROUND FOR NEW COUNCIL?

Dupont_council_2_2They said all the right things at Monday’s Borough Council reorganization.

Mayor Pat Menna praised Republican Councilman John Curley for having run a “good race” for mayor, and pledged to ‘work together’ with him and the other members of the council.

Democrat Michael DuPont, at far left above, taking his seat as the newest member of the governing body, declared that “the politics of personal destruction will end.”

Curley, seen below left with new Council President Sharon Lee and former Mayor Ed McKenna, said “we do have a new sense of cooperation.” Of Menna, Curley called him “my mayor, and I fall in behind him as the loyal opposition.”

Curley_mckenna_2Will it last? Is the post-McKenna era to be one of bipartisanship and occasional handholding? Or was it all for the sake of the children and clergy present?

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ADVICE FOR THE NEW GUY FROM THE EXES

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So, after 18 years riding the bench as a member of the borough council, what kind of mayor will Pasquale Menna be?

At his New Year’s Day swearing-in, Menna said his vision “is to continue the progress” of the McKenna era. He reached out to John Curley, his Republican opponent in the mayoral race—and McKenna’s nemesis—saying, “We’re going to work together.” He rolled out a number of initiatives, from public meetings during budget deliberations to online bill-paying for taxes and water fees.

In sum, he gave every indication that he knows what he wants to do, and how.

Still, it’s nice to have the benefit of others’ experience. So redbankgreen asked Red Bank’s four living ex-mayors for any advice they might have for the new guy.

Read on for their replies, followed by a complete list of Red Bank chief executives from the time the borough was carved out of Shrewsbury 99 years ago.

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McKENNA’S NEXT ACT?

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After a continuous, 18-year slog of borough council meetings, planning board sessions and rubber-chicken dinners from here to Trenton, departing Mayor Ed McKenna is about to find some gaping holes in his schedule.

More fundamentally, at age 56, he may also find himself pondering the question, ‘What do I really want to do now?’

Sure, he can golf from LaJolla to Lahinch until he’s red in the face. But really, is that a meaningful way for a man at the peak of his strengths to spend his time?

Yes, he’s got a successful law practice, but he’s been grinding on that wheel, too, for many years. Besides, would the credit union industry really miss one drop-out attorney?

This is the era of self-reinvention, and the possibilities for a person of McKenna’s skills and experience are almost limitless. Radio call-in host. Lobbyist. No Joe’s barista.

There’s almost too much to choose from. But fortunately for McKenna, the readers of redbankgreen are standing by, ready to offer guidance on his next move.

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ON GOLF, GOVERNANCE AND ‘MEATBALLS’

Now winding down a 16-year stint as Mayor of Red Bank, Edward J. McKenna is scheduled to be feted by borough employees at a party scheduled for 5p Monday, Dec. 18, at the Two River Theater.

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The event is open to the public. Tickets are $10 each. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Here’s something else to nosh on. redbankgreen sat down recently with McKenna in a conference room of his law firm, McKenna, DuPont, Higgins & Stone, for a look-back and look-forward interview. And he was as sentimental and pungent as ever.

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MENNA: WISE, BUSY MAN IN ‘OZ’

A lame-duck councilman in Matawan took the scorched-earth approach to saying goodbye last week, teeing up Mayor Mary Aufseeser as “repugnant,” badmouthing other members of the governing body and likening the town’s political atmosphere to “The Wizard of Oz,” complete with an unseen power broker behind a curtain.

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But one person spared Neil Mendelsohn’s ire, according to a report in the Holmdel Independent, was Borough Attorney Pasquale Menna, the Mayor-elect of Red Bank.

From the story:

“Pat Menna, you are wise. You are eloquent. You are so busy,” Mendelsohn said, then asking Menna to please find time to help his town.

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COUNCIL ‘NEUTRAL’ IN SHARMA SQUEEZE

Elected officials suddenly went into lips-zipped mode on the topic of Best Liquors last night, asking citizens to refrain from discussing or inquiring about the case of the controversial West Side retailer during the public portion of the borough council’s bimonthly meeting.

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The reason? To avoid any appearance that the council might have prejudged a hearing, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 6, on whether to revoke or suspend the store’s liquor license for a variety of alleged offenses that have had neighbors demanding a shutdown of the store for months.

That trial-like civil hearing on the status of the store’s liquor license will be prosecuted by Assistant Borough Attorney Thomas Hall, who takes his marching orders from the council. The council itself, several of whose members have openly discussed possible ways to terminate the store’s license, will rule on the matter.

Now, though, Mayor Ed McKenna says council members should stay mum on the subject to avoid giving the impression that the hearing won’t be fair, or give store owner of Sunny Sharma grounds for an appeal should the council rule against him.

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VOX POPULI SAYS ‘MENNA, MURPHY & DUPONT’

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Red Bank Democrats swept the board in Tuesday’s election, led by mayoral candidate and Latin buff Pasquale Menna, who outpolled fellow councilmember John Curley by 101 votes in unofficial tallying to become the first immigrant Italian to win the borough’s top elected post.

Incumbent Councilman Arthur Murphy III won a clear victory over Republican rivals Grace Cangemi and David Pallister. Democrat Michael Dupont, however, won only after a review of absentee and provisional ballots gave him an unofficial 16-vote win to complete his party’s hat trick and preserve the 4-2 council majority.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I just got off the phone with Monmouth County,” an ebullient Mayor Ed McKenna told a crowd of several hundred gathered amid former clothing display racks and busted sheetrock at the former Garmany store on Broad Street. “They have Michael DuPont by a landslide 16 votes!”

The crowd, which had been waiting nearly two hours to find out if DuPont, a law partner to McKenna, would join his running mates on the governing body, erupted. DuPont appeared to weep.

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