By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
When retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Avery Grant, a veteran of the Vietnam War, first moved to Long Branch, he was taken not only by its natural beauty, but also the strong sense of community that permeated the seaside city. For the next several decades, the East Orange transplant immersed himself in this new hometown, participating in civic organizations and direct activism alongside his neighbors. Grant served on the zoning board, organized the Concerned Citizens Coalition (which advocated on behalf of residents whose health was adversely impacted by the toxic remains of a gas plant), and was elected to the Board of Education in 1998. Now, with years of community service under his belt, Grant hopes to take his activism to the next level: City Hall.
Last month, Avery Grant announced his mayoral candidacy, challenging incumbent Adam Schneider, who is seeking an unprecedented seventh term. Why has he entered such a difficult race? To improve the political climate of the city, which he feels is too closed off from the public as a whole, and to provide accountable leadership to the thirty-thousand people who call Long Branch their home.
As is necessary with any candidate for public office in Long Branch, Grant has a vision for the famed oceanfront. He believes residents should be excused from paying for beach access and, if elected, will push to exempt them from having to purchase beach badges. He envisions a more eclectic waterfront, one that aims to bolster the local economy by attracting visitors of all ages, and has promised to push for the immediate reconstruction of the boardwalk, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In the past, Grant has also floated the idea of a public pool, which would allow the city’s youth to familiarize themselves with swimming before venturing into the ocean.
“I don’t know why we charge residents,” he said. “The residents should go to the beach for free, and that would be one of the things I would definitely do. The other thing would be that I would work to complete the boardwalk.”
Grant was a vocal opponent of the use of eminent domain to redevelop the city’s waterfront for private and commercial use, an issue that largely divided the city when construction of Pier Village began over a decade ago. In subsequent election cycles, Mayor Schneider has inevitably faced other challengers who were critical of this policy. Four years ago, the anti-eminent domain sentiment was incorporated into the platform of Councilman Brian Unger, who made opposition to the seizure of homes one of the cornerstones of his mayoral bid. In 2006, two mayoral candidates, Alfie Lenkiewicz and Reverend Kevin Brown, took similar stances during debate appearances.
Grant is also looking for ways to make government more efficient, and to that end, has proposed the use of an in-house lawyer and development teams, which could work on future projects, including the proposed development of a new oceanfront pier, and save substantial amounts of money by allowing staffed employees who are already on the city’s payroll do the initial legwork.
Of course, Avery Grant has made it clear he is running for Mayor of Long Branch—the entire city—not just the beachfront. Thus, the scope of his focus will stretch far beyond that of the sea. For example, he believes the recently announced redevelopment of Broadway needs to be done in a transparent manner and has called for providing incentives for homeowners to update their own properties.
“We have housing complexes here that are fifty percent undervalued and yet they haven’t given their tenants a rent break,” Grant said, noting that he would also “like to bring in an incentive for people to improve their homes, where it is not if you improve your home, your [re-evaluated] and your evaluation goes up. I’d like to give them a five year break, like we give some of these developers, and say, ‘improve your home and five years later we will change it to what it’s valued at.’”
With the May 13th non-partisan election now roughly a month away, Grant’s campaign has kicked it into high gear and will host a free event at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch on Sunday, April 12th at 5:00pm. Though he knows the next four weeks will be a true challenge, the candidate is excited to take his message to the voters because, even after all these years, it’s still all about the community for Avery Grant.