By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Today is Election Day in New Jersey’s non-partisan municipalities, and while most of the attention has gone to the incredibly high profile Newark mayoral contest, residents in three Monmouth County municipalities—Highlands, Keansburg, and Long Branch—will take to the polls tomorrow to make their voices heard.
In Long Branch, the bulk of press coverage has dealt with the mayoral race, where twenty-four year incumbent Adam Schneider has found himself squaring off against Board of Education member and retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Avery Grant. It’s the first time in at least eight years that only two candidates are seeking the office; the political opposition is solidly unified behind Grant, which could make for interesting political theatre. That said: it is important that voters remember the City Council is also up for election.
Four years ago, twenty candidates entered the Council race, albeit this election cycle has presented a much less hectic climate. There are only seven individuals seeking spots on the City Council, including the incumbent Schneider Team (comprised of Joy Bastelli, Kathleen Billings, Mary Jane Celli, John Pallone, and Michael Sirianni). There are only two challengers, Cynthia Branch and David Pizzo, independents who are unaffiliated with either mayoral candidate. Pizzo is neither a political novice nor newcomer to electoral endeavors (he was a member of the Robert Krebs ticket last time around); he has remained consistent in his efforts to provide a voice to the entire city, addressing issues that are often overlooked in the public discussion. To that end, he has appealed to residents who live inland, and hopes to be their advocate on the City Council.
“More than just the beachfront or Broadway, its important to go into the city,” Pizzo said, adding that residents “need a voice. They need somebody behind them and supporting them and looking after them and not only worrying about Pier Village and Lower Broadway. We need to know we have sidewalks, we have parks, and we have other things in this town of interest and issues that need to be addressed.”
He promises to address issues such as rising taxes and the number of abandoned or poorly kept properties within the city, which have caused problems for neighbors by becoming hazardous and attracting trespassers.
Of course, anybody running for office in Long Branch needs to have a plan for the waterfront. For Pizzo, beach accessibility and fostering a family friendly environment rank high on the list of priorities. Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the coastline in 2012, destroyed the boardwalk south of Pier Village. Despite outcries from locals, it has yet to be fully reconstructed. While there is a plan in the works, many feel the boardwalk and promenade should have already been rebuilt.
“We still don’t have a finished beach two years later,” he said. That’s not good.”
Pizzo believes increased beach access, particularly for those who are handicapped, needs
to become part of the public discussion. The wheelchair accessible ramps that once lead from the boardwalk to the sand were obliterated by the hurricane. It is now the second summer season since the storm and these access points have yet to be restored, meaning those who are unable to descend the thirty foot drop from the promenade to the beach via the stairways will have a difficult time enjoying the city’s waterfront.
“They did put some stairs in but handicapped people can’t get down,” said Pizzo. “And people who come with children have to get down about thirty-three steps.”
In addition to the much-needed handicapped ramps, Pizzo said he believes existing sand should be used to create a natural slope, which would allow visitors with children to enter the beaches through a gentle incline rather than the existing steep wooden steps.
Discussions about Long Branch’s tourism future don’t end at the boardwalk. One of the more contentious issues of this campaign (a matter on which all candidates have had to weigh in) is the proposed construction of a pier and ferry terminal, which will provide a direct link between the Long Branch boardwalk and New York City. While the incumbent councilmembers have enthusiastically endorsed the plan, others in the community have voiced skepticism regarding its necessity and the high costs such a project will inevitably incur. Pizzo, however, is not inherently opposed to the project, so long as it can be demonstrated that it will benefit residents.
“It would be nice to see the pier come in and be established,” said Pizzo, though he remains skeptical that the boat service alone would benefit the in-land portions of the city. “As far as the ferry goes, how much revenue is that really going to bring to the inner-city? I don’t know if that is going to be totally beneficial.”
In regards to the pier, Pizzo sees an opportunity for the city to utilize its waterfront to its maximum potential, creating a family attraction that would help lure additional tourism and strengthen the bonds of the local community. He harkens back to Pat Cicalese’s famous amusement pier, destroyed by fire in the late 1980s.
“Certainly, I grew up here and enjoyed the pier,” he said. “If they plan on establishing stores there again and the structure is good enough…I think it will enhance a good part of the city. I would hope it would be a situation where we have some youth activity, arcades and stuff involved in that, not just building something out there just for a ferry…It should be what it was in the past. It was always free to go out on the pier and there were stores and shops of all sorts. It was somewhere you could take your children; I would like to see that again.”
A proponent of local term limits, which would prevent an incumbent officeholder from seeking re-election after they served a specified number of years, Pizzo vowed to run a positive and honest campaign, resisting the negativity that has typically consumed Long Branch elections.
“I want to go in there in a positive way,” Pizzo said. “I want to be fair to everybody that’s running, and I want to be very positive because the residents who live here in Long Branch need that.”