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Img_4979Councilman and freeholder-wannabe John Curley.

Several times during the bimonthly Red Bank council meeting on Monday, Mayor Pasquale Menna wryly referred to Councilman John Curley — his Republican opponent in the 2006 mayoral race — as “the future Monmouth County Freeholder.”

It can often seem that there’s no love lost between the Democrats and the council’s senior GOP representative; in fact, Menna has a far more cordial relationship with Curley than former Mayor Ed McKenna did. But Menna insists that he’s dead serious about Curley’s chances. In fact, he says he thinks a Curley victory is inevitable.

“He’s going to win,” Menna tells redbankgreen. “He’s going to be the next freeholder.”


“Because he’s going to be campaigning 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says, alluding to Curley’s reputation for relentless shoe-leather canvassing. “And frankly, I’m not sure what his opponents will be like.”

Curley is paired on the GOP ticket with incumbent Lillian Burry as the Republicans try to maintain their 3-2 majority in Freehold. They’ll face Democrats Amy Mallet of Fair Haven and Glenn Mason of Hazlet.

redbankgreen spoke with Curley recently to get his thoughts on grabbing for the next rung of the political ladder.

You’ve been elected as a Democratic councilman and re-elected as a Republican, and now you’ve decided not to run for council again, even though you’re in a pretty solid position here. So you’re your taking a bit of political risk. If you lose, you’re out entirely.

Yes. I’m taking the full gamut. I want to move onto the county. I feel I can do some wonderful things there. Our platforms as Republicans in Red Bank have previously been defeated, and I feel that perhaps I can do some wonderful things with 53 municipalities rather than just one.

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Will John Curley’s firebrand personality fly with Monmouth County Republican powerbrokers?

The Red Bank councilman will find out tomorrow when he goes before the party’s screening committee in a bid to be one of two nominees to run for county freeholder n November.

Five others are also scheduled to participate in the beauty pageant at party HQ in Freehold, the Asbury Park Press reports.

Curley’s an acknowledged ideological lane-changer who’s bounced back and forth between the two major parties several times since young adulthood in Shrewsbury. He was elected to the Red Bank council as a Democrat in 2003 before splitting, quite publicly and often, with his former patron, then-Mayor Ed McKenna.

And even as a registered Republican, he has acknowledged he wears the label as something of a badge of political necessity.

As a result, Curley says he has only passing acquaintance with GOP county chairman Adam Puharic and many of the 20 to 25 screening committee members he’ll be making a three-minute presentation to before the session is opened up for questions.

Still, “I’m actually pretty relaxed,” he told redbankgreen today. “You know, I have a great deal of confidence in myself.”

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Red Bank Councilman John Curley has thrown his name in for consideration by Republican powerbrokers as a potential candidate for Monmouth County Freeholder in November, Curley has confirmed to the the Hub.

In the current edition, the weekly reports that Curley sent a letter of intent declaring his candidacy for freeholder Jan. 24, prior to Freeholder William C. Barham’s announcment that announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Curley tells Hub reporter Melissa Karsh that he hopes to bring a fresh face and voice to the county with his nomination.

“I believe that Monmouth County is going through a period of revolution, that the Republican Party needs some stability and I feel that I’m not beholden to anyone so I can go out as a fresh voice and fresh spirit and be beneficial,” said Curley Monday.

He added, “I’m putting my name out there and seeing how it plays out. I truly believe that if the Republican Party in the county wants to change then they will choose me because I am someone who brings forth change.”

He also says that if he fails in his bid, he’ll stand for re-election to the borough seat he won as a Democrat in 2002 before changing parties. And if he wins at the county, he won’t seek re-election to the council, where he’s one of two Republicans, along with Grace Cangemi, on the six-member body.

“I would never put myself in a conflict of interest and serve in two public offices,” he tells the Hub.

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If any one person outside of Tiffany & Co. is responsible for the jeweler’s decision to open a gleaming outpost in downtown Red Bank today, it’s Larry Garmany, who has a habit of making high-risk business moves that tend to baffle even his closest advisers.

Back in 1989, for example, after 15 years on Manhattan’s Upper Side, he decided to open a store in Red Bank. He bought 17 Broad Street, the former Clayton and Magee Colorest store, and then drove down with his architect and accountant to show them the new home for his own high-end men’s clothing shop.

“We get out of the car, and my architect looks left, and he looks right,” Garmany recalled last week. “And he says, ‘Larry, this is ghost town. What the hell have you done here?’ Only he didn’t use the word ‘hell.'”

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For a guy who just turned 80, George Bowden has a lot of energy. Some of it gets steered into his passion for trying to preserve old buildings in Red Bank as chairman of the borough’s Historical Preservation Commission. Some he expends on his favorite pastime, fishing.

But that still leaves Bowden with juice to spare, and he’s eager to burn it up getting the town ready for its 100th anniversary next year.

Problem is, not much is happening on that front in terms of guidance. And that’s making Bowden nervous, given the narrowing window of opportunity to plan something special.

“It’s been sort of dead in the water,” Bowden told redbankgreen recently, noting that an event planning committee appointed by Mayor Pasquale Menna earlier this year has had just one meeting. Bowden’s a member, but not heading it up.

“My concern is that here’s a tremendous amount of work to be done, and I have trouble pedaling a bicycle without a chain,” Bowden says.

Menna tells us he understands Bowden’s antsiness, but says there is progress being made.

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Usually, when a chief financial officer is in the news, you’re talking crisis.

Think Enron. Think WorldCom. Think Borough of Red Bank last August.

That’s when things kind of blew up at Borough Hall, with the disclosure that freshly-resigned CFO Terrence Whalen hadn’t exactly been running the tightest ship, in bookkeeping terms.

No fraud was ever alleged. But checks were being deposited into the wrong accounts, according to outside auditor David Kaplan. Accounts weren’t being balanced. Refunds from developers’ escrow accounts were being made in duplicate.

The fallout from the sloppiness was real, as borough taxpayers took a hit in the form of a four-cents-per-$100 of property value tax increase for 2006-2007, all of it attributable to poor recordkeeping, officials said.

There was political fallout, too. Then-Mayor Ed McKenna blamed Councilman John Curley, who was head of the council’s finance committee, for failure to keep an eye on Whalen’s operation. McKenna bounced Curley from the high-profile assignment, and in a heated exchange, Curley uttered his infamous Why don’t you just take me down to Broad Street and hang me? retort. It all became fodder for last year’s mayoral race, which Curley lost to now-Mayor Pasquale Menna.

Well, what a different story 10 months can make, as evidence by the lovefest that erupted at last night’s council meeting for new CFO Frank Mason and his five-person crew of green eyeshades.

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Republican Grace Cangemi’s first two hours as Red Bank’s newest council member Monday night were marked largely by the air of civility that has dominated the governing body’s meetings this year.

“I have a great deal of respect for Mayor [Pasquale] Menna, and I look forward to being part of his administration,” Cangemi said in her opening remarks as she filled the seat left vacant by the January resignation of Kaye Ernst.

“I think we’ve made the right decision, and I think you’ll be a credit to the residents of Red Bank,” Menna replied, as a packed council hearing room looked on.

Later, though, came the first, brief burst of verbal fireworks since Menna took the gavel from his predecessor as mayor, Ed McKenna. And he had to use it, too — not that it did any good.

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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.


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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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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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.


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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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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Red Bank led all 623 school districts statewide in Hispanic student enrollment growth from 2000 to 2006, according to a report in today’s Star-Ledger.

An analysis by the state’s largest newspaper found that 57.9 percent of students in the Red Bank schools are today Hispanic, up 32.8 percent in the past six years.

Not coincidentally, Red Bank also led the state in terms of percentage decrease in African-American student enrollment, to 28.3 percent of the total, a drop of 26.7 percent in six years.

In three of the cities cited in the article—Red Bank, New Brunswick and Plainfield—”Hispanic children are actually replacing the black population in the schools,” the Ledger reports.

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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.


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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One of Red Bank’s architectural treasures fell to the sledgehammer this week when workmen demolished the intricate brick fence at the United Methodist Church on Broad Street.


The removal of the wall, apparently prompted by an accelerating state of decay, took longtime Red Bankers by surprise.

“I’m thoroughly disgusted,” said George Bowden, chairman of the Red Bank Historic Preservation Commission who had written to a church elder more than a year ago urging the church to preserve the wall, without receiving a formal reply. “It’s a tearing of the historic fabric of the town of Red Bank.”

Mayor Ed McKenna, whose law office is a few doors north of the church, said he was “shocked” to see that the wall had disappeared from one day to the next.

Church officials did not respond to requests for comment by redbankgreen, which happened upon the scene as the wall was being taken down Tuesday afternoon.

By late Wednesday, every scrap of brick and mortar had been removed, leaving only the poured concrete foundation several inches below the surface of the ground.

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You’re on your way into a restaurant you’ve been dying to check out, and just as you near the door, it hits you: the cloud of nicotine exhaust you have to pass through thanks to the cigarette junkies huddled against the cold near the entrance.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Solution: Give smokers the chair. And a table. Preferably as far from the door as possible.

That’s the gist of an idea that Buona Sera Ristorante owner Chris Mariani pitched to the borough council in a recent letter.

He wants the borough to allow restaurants that offer outdoor seating through the warm months to do so year-round to entice smokers to less-trafficked corners of their properties.

“Just keep them away from the front door so it doesn’t look like a factory,” says Mariani, himself a cigar smoker. “It opens it up a little bit. Spread ’em out.”

Mariani’s idea quickly took to the air. Within minutes of its first mention at Monday’s council meeting, most of the governing body had endorsed it.

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Two weeks after his election, and six weeks before he’s to be sworn in, Mayor-elect Pat Menna moved to put his stamp on Red Bank Monday night, introducing a plan to expand the special-assessment business district known as RiverCenter to the West Side.

Casting the move in terms of rising competition with nearby towns for shopping and entertainment dollars, Menna and RiverCenter executives said the plan, if approved by the Borough Council, would push the western edge of the Special Improvement District west along Monmouth to Bridge Avenue.

On Bridge, the district would reach south to Chestnut Street and north to the Navesink River. Also included would be the Oyster Point and Molly Pitcher hotels, and the new Hovnanian headquarters.

Excluded entirely is Shrewsbury Avenue.

Given what he termed the “positive” reception to the idea, Menna says he hopes to have an ordinance introduced, passed an enacted before he takes office on Jan. 1.

“The only time to move is the present,” he told redbankgreen this morning.

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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.


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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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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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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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 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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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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“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.


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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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.


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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