PROFILE: PASQUALE MENNA

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Pat Menna is showing off the first floor of his home, a spacious Dutch Colonial he shares with his five-year-old white Labrador retriever, Bella. It’s on a corner lot in one of Red Bank’s more upmarket neighborhoods, and in contrast to the white exterior trimmed in black, the interior is painted in bold, contemporary colors, yet decorated with Roman and other antiquities.

“I don’t have too many vices, but I love iconography,” the Byzantine tradition of religious images painted on wood and highlighted in gold leaf, says Menna. “Being 100-percent Italian, I have an immense emotional attachment to the place of my birth. I like to be surrounded by things that remind me of my childhood.”

As for the lipsticky color in the stairwell he says, “the red highlights, I think, the icons, which need a dark color to bring them out.”

Just off to the side of where we’ll be talking, however, in what appears to be a solarium, Bella has added her own splash of color to the oatmeal-colored carpeting by puking on it. And somehow, the fastidious and formal Menna either hasn’t noticed this, or is pretending not to.

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PROFILE: JOHN CURLEY

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Somehow, the décor seems out of character for the sole occupant of this 673-square-foot condo at Red Bank Manor, a shady cluster of two-story red-brick buildings off Spring Street.

For starters, it’s painted beige, a neutral color. And with its understated furnishings and framed prints of Grecian urns hanging on the beige walls, the place seems way too sedate to be the home of John Curley, the firebrand politician whose manner is often as jabbing as it is courteous.

But something catches your eye soon after you enter the apartment, and it’s more in line with the public Curley persona. There, on the floor, is a rather large exercise machine that announces itself like a six-foot-long exclamation mark. It straddles the opening between the living room and Curley’s home office.

And just like that, the connection between the man and the place is clear. This is the where Curley trains for his trademark door-to-door campaigns against an administration that he denounces as an examplar of machine politics. It’s a device on which the driven Curley challenges himself.

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THE MAN FOR THE JOB

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The final installment of our three-part Q&A with the mayoral candidates has the scholarly Pasquale Menna invoking the Ostrogoths and the combative John Curley backing away from use of the term “flunkies.”

Oh, and we also find out why they want the job that’s been held for the past 16 years by retiring Mayor Ed McKenna, and what they consider Red Bank’s most pressing issue.

Check back at redbankgreen this weekend for our profiles of the candidates.

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AND THE LEADER, BY A HAIR…

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How close is next week’s mayoral election in Red Bank looking?

Well, there are no polls that we know of. So redbankgreen devised its own measure.

We call it the Electometer, a count of yard signs touting the candidates: Council President Pasquale Menna, a Democrat; his opponent, Republican Councilman John Curley; and their respective slates.

It’s far from scientific, we know. You can discount or dismiss the results for numerous reasons. But it’s all we’ve got.

So, how’s the race shaping up as we enter the final week? Well, it’s close. Extremely close. But according to the Electometer, if voters from Mechanic Street turn out and pull levers the way they’ve declared themselves in their front yards, the slate that’ll be popping champagne corks next Tuesday night is the one headed by…

… the bald bachelor.

No, not that one. The other one.

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HEAD TO HEAD: ROUND 2

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In the second of three excerpts from our interviews with Pasquale Menna and John Curley, the mayoral candidates size each other up.

And, as always, the shadow of Mayor Ed McKenna looms.

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BACKPEDALING FROM DUBIOUS ADS

Democratic mayoral candidate Pasquale Menna has acknowledged that mailed campaign literature used to attack his opponent, John Curley, contained made-up newspaper excerpts, according to today’s Asbury Park Press.

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“It was an error on the campaign’s part. We didn’t do it maliciously, and I’ve apologized on behalf of the campaign,” Menna told the Press’ Larry Higgs. “It should have been put together better.”

But the consultant whose firm designed the ad, Ross Oster of the Oster Group, told the Press that he properly sourced the original Press article, an assertion disputed by an editor at the Press.

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HEAD TO HEAD: ROUND 1

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Is Red Bank riding a surge of prosperity, poised to begin spreading its commercial and cultural riches beyond the downtown to the West Side? Or has development run amok, altering the town’s small-town character for the worse, and sticking residents with too much of the tab and aggravation?

These are some of the big issues in this year’s election of a successor to Mayor Ed McKenna, and represent, in broad strokes, the perspectives of the two candidates, council members Pasquale Menna and John Curley.

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ATTACK OF THE DUBIOUS EXCERPTS

“JOHN CURLEY… ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL,” declares a recent campaign mailer sent out by Red Bank Democrats in one of the first attack ads of this year’s mayoral race.

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Bearing an image of a pillow on a steering wheel, the mailer takes Republican Councilman and mayoral candidate John Curley to task for his purported responsibilty in the recent Finance Department mess. That’s the one in which former CFO Terence Whalen was replaced following the discovery of lax fiscal controls, and property owners got stuck with a tax increase to cover associated costs.

But the folks involved in writing and editing the mailer may have been asleep at the wheel, too. Or were they perhaps doing some aggressive driving?

The mailer includes anti-Curley excerpts from newspaper articles or editorials that apparently don’t exist.

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LIKE A VISIT TO GRANDMA’S HOUSE

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They were on their very best behavior.

No candidate cast aspersions at another’s character or profession. No citizen got sucked into a verbal brawl with an elected official or council wannabe.

In fact, no one said much of anything at Wednesday’s “Meet the Candidates Night” that anyone in the audience or on the dais got noticeably worked up about.

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Maybe it was the dampening effect of the rain outside, but even on issues that Red Bank residents or their designees normally do get worked up about, there was no hostility.

The whole thing, in fact, could hardly have been more civil if tea and scones had been laid out on the refreshments table instead of coffee and chocolate-chip cookies.

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O’GRADY GETS 43 MONTHS

Former Middletown Committeeman Raymond O’Grady, Just_insmall_2 who purportedly told undercover FBI investigators that he could “smell a cop…a mile away,” was sentenced to 43 years in federal prison today for his role in the wide-ranging corruption probe called Operation Bid Rig.

The Asbury Park Press has details of the sentencing, at which U.S. District Judge William J. Martini said the evidence “showed a public official ready and willing to take bribes in his public capacity.”

O’Grady, Martini said, “had numerous opportunities to say no.”

O’Grady was convicted at trial in June on five counts of bribery and extortion for accepting $8,000 in graft, both in his official capacity in Middletown and in his role as manager of Monmouth County’s vehicle fleet.

His lawyer, Kevin Roe, told the Press that O’Grady continues to maintain his innocence and will appeal both the verdict and the sentence.

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DID CURLEY BOOT HIMSELF?

The Asbury Park Press has an article today on the Red Bank Borough Council’s formation this week of a committee on education and technology, and how Councilman John Curley’s vote on the matter may have backfired against him.

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Curley’s was the lone ‘no’ on the vote to create the committee, the brainchild of Council President Pasquale Menna, Curley’s Democratic rival to succeed Ed McKenna as mayor. And Curley’s opposition apparently took McKenna by surprise.

“I was going to put him on [the committee], but he voted no,” McKenna told the Press’ Larry Higgs.

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BARKING MAD AT BOROUGH HALL

Another Red Bank Council meeting, another ugly blow-up. And last night’s was a Richter-scale doozie.

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As usual, the main event was Mayor Ed McKenna v. Councilman John Curley, but two other council members and a borough resident got into the finger-pointing and shouting.

Through it all, Curley’s opponent in the race to succeed McKenna, Council President Pasquale Menna, stayed on the sidelines before restoring an air of calm to the proceedings.

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BLASTOFF: CAMPAIGN ’06

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It’s on.

With five weeks to go until election day, the race for mayor and two council seats in Red Bank is fully underway, with campaign literature filling mailboxes and the candidates stumping door-to-door. Can the dinner-interruptus phone calls be far behind?

On Saturday, redbankgreen found Republican Councilman and mayoral hopeful John Curley and his running mates—Grace Cangemi and David Pallister—pounding the pavement on the lower East Side near Pinckney Road.

Council President Pasquale Menna, who’s running for mayor, and his Democratic crew—Councilman Arthur Murphy III and council contender Michael DuPont—were out knocking on doors Sunday on the lower West Side.

Voters looking for a head-to-head comparison of the candidates might want to mark the date of Wednesday, Oct. 11 on their calendars.

That night, starting at 7p, the Westside Community Group will hold its 10th annual Candidates Night in the community room of River Street Commons (the former school building at the corner of River Street and Shrewsbury Avenue, now used for senior housing.)

If the event is anything like last year’s, it should be quite a show. And if you add the Southies to the mix, with their ire over soaring taxes, and the Westies, burned up over declining quality-of-life issues, and it’s a must-see.

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CUTS GRASS WITH SICKLE, OWNS HAMMER

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“I’m pretty far to the left,” Al Strasburger told us with a note of caution over the phone the other day, before we met him at his Oakland Street home for an interview.

Looking back, we now see what a considerate gesture this was. Clearly the man has a sense of his own toxicity, as measured by today’s political standards. He was gently trying to spare us from… well, a shock, no doubt.

Of course, the warning only whetted our interest. What passes for the ideological “spectrum” in America today is actually a range from the barely-left-of-center to the far right. We thought it would be refreshing to meet a real hairshirt liberal, the kind who might actually resemble the bogeymen that far-right radio screechers have gotten rich warning us about.

So we eagerly made our way past the cartoonishly overgrown yard—which, swear to Allah, Strasburger maintains with a sickle, because he doesn’t own a lawnmower—and into his musty, poster-lined living room, where a two-foot-high stack of Cuban art magazines stood in a corner.

A couple of hours later we departed, having met perhaps the most charming, erudite, Chevy-driving, Phillies-loving defender of Stalin we are ever likely to encounter in these parts.

And yeah, the hair was standing up on the backs of our necks.

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CURLEY FRIED

Councilman and mayoral wannabe John P. Curley was booted from his post overseeing the borough’s finance department last night, according to Larry Higgs in today’s Asbury Park Press.

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Mayor Ed McKenna initiated the ouster, repeating his claim that lax oversight of now-departed borough CFO Terence Whalen by Curley forced the council to raise property taxes.

The vote to kick Curley to the curb went along party lines, with the four Democrats, including mayoral contender Pat Menna, voting in favor. Curley and fellow Republican Kaye Ernst voted against it, the Press reports.

“Why don’t you just take me down to Broad Street and hang me?” Curley is reported have said.

He defended his role in monitoring the finance department, saying…

that until the 2005 audit, which was delivered this summer, other reports from the auditor revealed no problems in the finance department.

“I got the reports from the auditor, and the reports were everything was fine,” he said. “I am not the CFO or the auditor. I can only go by the reports.”

Curley also reminded McKenna that he has appointed him to consecutive terms as finance chairman.

McKenna, though, compared Curley’s handling of the assignment to that of his three predecessors, and found Curley’s actions wanting, to say the least. Unlike Curley, the previous overseers of the department met regularly with the CFO and provided updates to the council, McKenna said.

From the story:

“There is nothing personal or political about what I will propose here. This is strictly business,” McKenna told the council. “In any other business, if a department chairman or head had $400,000 in losses, they would be fired.”

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MORE CURLEY v. McKENNA

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The acrimony between departing Mayor Ed McKenna and mayoral candidate John Curley spilled over into the business of the Monmouth County Freeholders last night.

Today’s Asbury Park Press reports that Curley and other Republicans were, um, displeased with the Freeholders’ hiring of law firms.

McKenna’s firm—McKenna, Dupont, Higgins & Stone—was named as a special counsel. The Freeholders also re-appointed, by a 3-2 vote, Malcolm V. Carton as county counsel, re-upping Carton in a post he’s held since 1985.

Carton’s lock on the job had appeared in danger amid rising concern about the size of his bills and his naked fundraising for Republican candidates.

But under new rules adopted by the Freeholders, the county counsel will be prohibited from making any political contributions to candidates for county office, and is now barred from hosting fundraisers for the freeholders, sheriff, county clerk or county surrogate.

The Freeholders also brought in six new law firms, including McKenna’s, with both Democratic and Republican affiliations.

Not good enough, according to Curley and other critics who took a throw-the-bums-out approach.

From the story:

“It is a night of shame for the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders,” Curley said. “The county is not moving to clean itself up. They appoint the same cronies…the same old boys club.”

OK, so that was arguably a broad-brush attack not necessarily aimed solely at McKenna. But it makes for a tidy entry in the back-and-forth between McKenna, who ran on the same ticket as Curley in 2002, and Curley, who later switched parties, from Democratic to Republican.

A week ago, McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the borough council.

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McKENNA: IT’S CURLEY’S FAULT

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The buck for the latest increase in Red Bank property taxes stops at the far right end of the Borough Council dais, where John P. Curley sits, according to Mayor Ed McKenna.

McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the council yesterday. In McKenna’s view, Curley failed to exercise proper oversight of former borough chief financial officer Terence Whalen, who quit in June, shortly before the release of an audit that found his department rife with mismanagement that will set the town back $400,000. No fraud was alleged.

According to Larry Higgs’ account in the Asbury Park Press, McKenna accused Curley, the council’s finance committee chairman, for failing to monitor Whalen.

“The taxpayers of this borough should hold you accountable for four cents of the tax increase,” McKenna said.

McKenna said the borough tax rate would be flat if not for the problems in the finance office.

“We have an excellent budget. I wish it was better, but due to negligence in one department, it cost us $400,000,” McKenna said.

Curley said it isn’t his job to monitor full-time employees. That is the job of full-time borough employees, he said.

“I’m not the CFO or the auditor,” he replied.

Other finance committee chairmen met with the CFO during the week and got updates on whether the borough was under or over budget, McKenna said.

“That’s what you should have been doing,” McKenna said. “You knew we had a new CFO and should have been monitoring him on a microscopic basis.”

McKenna’s accusation followed criticism by Curley of the council’s failure to slash the budget across all departments by five percent from last year’s spending, as Curley had proposed.

The new spending plan calls for $16.27 million, with the local portion of property taxes pegged at $8.32 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the average home, assessed at $179,000, that means a bill of $1,489, up $75 from the previous budget.

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SAME OLD ‘WAR STORIES’ ON PARKING

Today’s Asbury Park Press samples some of the familiar complaints about parking in downtown Red Bank, an issue in which the challenge of finding a space near one’s destination or staying one coin ahead of the meter reader counts as a “war story.”

A Shrewsbury man criticizes having to pay for parking, and says merchants should pick up the tab. A woman from Ocean says the difficulty in finding a space “pushes you away from going there on a Saturday night for dining.”

The idea for a parking garage on the site of the 274-space White Street municipal lot is resurrected, to no one’s surprise. But there’s no mention of the recurring counter-argument that the municipal lots east of Broad Street are woefully underutilized.

Press reporter Larry Higgs devotes several paragraphs to a multi-use Princeton Borough garage built by a private developer, in which the borough collects rent on the underlying land.

But that’s as close as the story gets to the issue of who should pay for a Red Bank garage, which through several attempts to get one built has been the major sticking point. The story makes no mention of the taxpayer opposition to a plan for a White Street garage in 2001, when the cost was estimated at $8.4 million. Nor does it fully explain what happened in July 2005, when the council hoped to quietly authorize bonding for 570-car garage, whose cost had risen to $11.8 million. Angry residents packed the council chambers and spilled into the hallways of borough hall. The bonding ordinance was tabled when garage proponent Mayor Ed McKenna announced that he had heard from several private developers who might be interested in partnering with the town on the project.

“These are some very exciting possibilities,” McKenna said at the time, according to an account in The Hub.

Higgs now tells us that “those plans never materialized.”

Residents keep hearing that there’s a pressing need for the White Street garage, and that it’ll be so popular that it will pay for itself. So where is the private-sector money ready to capitalize on this demand?

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McGREEVEY’S ‘RANK’ SEX DOESN’T RANK

Seventy-nine percent of New Jerseyans have “absolutely no interest” in reading ex-Guv. Jim McGreevey’s upcoming book about his struggles with homosexuality and his 2004 political flame-out, according to the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

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Five percent expressed “a lot’ of interest, and 14 percent had at least some interest in reading the book, titled ‘The Confession.’ It’s due out Sept. 19. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has details.

According to an excerpt obtained by the Star-Ledger in May (story archived), McGreevey’s tell-all includes disclosures about his attempts to satisfy “a particularly rank, unfulfilling variety of lust” via sexual encounters in highway rest-stops and other drive-thru locales.

He’s scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show Sept. 18. Polls aside, if he jumps up and down on her sofa or admits to plagiarism, look for book sales to skyrocket.

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FRIED CATFISH AND MOMMA’S LOVE

OK, one final post on the race for city judge in Red Bank, Tenn. Barring a demand for a recount from the Disheroon camp, that is.

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DUI lawyer Johnny Houston, who outpolled incumbent Judge Gary Disheroon in voting Thursday, dropped us an e-mail over the weekend.

Well John [redbankgreenman, that is], I feel pretty good about the result, given that I won. Believe it or not, this is only the second instance in modern times that ANY incumbent judge in this county has been turned out of office. I guess my momma loves me more than his does.

I thought it would feel different to be judge. When I woke up this morning, I expected my family to greet me with, “Good morning, your honor.” I was disappointed. My 15 year-old then informed me that the only way that he would call me “your honor” is if he is a defendant in my court. I then told him that would handle all family transgressions while wearing my judicial robe. He was unimpressed.

Actually, I worked quite hard to win the race. I must have eaten at our local “home cookin” (i.e. breaded and deep-fried) restaurants 50 times over the last three weeks. I went to “Lillie Mae’s” and had fried catfish today out of sheer habit. Only when I was finished did I recall that the election was over.

Thanks for the interest. If y’all are ever this way, give us a shout.

John

Is it any wonder this guy’s momma loves him?

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ALL RISE

Johnny Houston outpolled incumbent Judge Gary Disheroon in the race for city judge in Red Bank, Tenn. last night.

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The Daily Chattanoogan reports that Houston beat Disheroon by a vote of 845 to 695.

As previously reported here at redbankgreen, Houston, a lawyer specializing in DUI cases, had the key endorsements of his mother and wife. Disheroon rallied late in the campaign with public expressions of support from his own sister, parents, and a hunting buddy. But Houston may have pulled away at the end with a just-folks e-mail to redbankgreen that Disheroon did not counter.

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JOHNNY HOUSTON: NOW CHARMING BOTH RED BANKS

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Our long-distance coverage of the dueling love notes written by kin of both candidates in the race for city judge in Red Bank, Tenn., has not gone unnoticed down in the Volunteer State.

The challenger, Johnny Houston, e-mailed us (click image above to enlarge) last night to explain the role of the fawning missives, which have appeared in recent days in the opinion pages of the Daily Chattanoogan. Houston’s mother and wife have shamlessly weighed in, as have the sister and parents of the incumbent, Judge Gary Disheroon, to tell voters why their boys deserve the judgeship.

“We appreciate your interest in our election skirmish down here,” Houston writes. “Unlike other areas of the country, people down south want to make sure a candidate’s family likes them before wasting a vote. I once heard a voter say (in reference to ANOTHER candidate), ‘If his momma and daddy don’t like him, then why should I?’ “

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HOUSTON V. DISHEROON HEATS UP

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If this were another Monmouth County publication, one we won’t identify by name, we’d be screeching in this space about how influential we were on politics from here to Tennessee.

That’s not us. We’re redbankgreen, the alternative to the alternative newspaper out of Asbury Park. And so we’ll acknowledge that it’s a pure coincidence that, one day after our last post on the race for city judge in Red Bank, Tenn., three relatives of the incumbent, Gary Disheroon, had a letter to the editor published in the Daily Chattanoogan in which they polish their guy’s apple.

If you missed it, we chided Disheroon on Saturday for letting a very public hugfest by the mother and wife of his opponent, Johnny Houston, go unanswered. Well, now the voters out in Red Bank, Tenn. are being served.

Under the headline “Proud of Gary Disheroon’s Campaign Conduct,” the latest missive appeared Sunday, over the names of Gwen, Jimmie and Preston Disheroon. They identify themselves as the judge’s sister and parents. “He is a loyal and supportive husband, step-father, brother and son,” they write.

In fact, the Disheroon camp seems to be stepping up its game. The family letter is accompanied by one from “a personal friend, a hunting partner, and a lawyer who has tried cases before his court” that also praises the candidate.

We saw something like this in the last gubernatorial race here, didn’t we? Except that, this being New Jersey, the most prominent relative to speak out was now-Gov. Jon Corzine’s ex-wife, and she did anything but try to buff his image.

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AND NOW, A NICE WORD FROM THE MRS.

We told you a few days back about the letter to the editor that the mother of Johnny Houston, a candidate for city judge in Red Bank, Tenn., wrote to the editor of the local newspaper extolling her boy’s many virtues.

Well, now the candidate’s wife has written in to sing his praises. And the Daily Chattanoogan has once again not stood in the way of what is clearly a burgeoning charm offensive. The paper ran Mrs. Laura Houston’s letter yesterday. Headline: “Johnny Houston Does What Is Right And Fair.”

This made redbankgreen wonder how many letters of praise the Chattanoogan has run from relatives of Houston’s opponent in the race, incumbent Gary Disheroon. The answer, going by a search of the newspaper’s online archive: none.

What on earth is wrong with this guy? It’s like watching John Kerry stand by while he got Swift-boated all over again. Only in this case, Disheroon is remaining quiet amid a public lovefest for Houston; neither Houston’s Mom, Nancy Estes, nor his wife says an unkind word about Disheroon. In print, that is.

It’s a wholly civilized affair. And yet, somehow, it cries out for retaliation. Can’t Disheroon scrounge up one relative to write him a gushing endorsement? Don’t the people of Red Bank, Tenn., deserve to know what his kin think of him?

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