By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Huddled into Avery Grant’s mayoral campaign headquarters on Brighton Avenue, Long Branch’s long-downtrodden political opposition experienced an unprecedented boost of energy and inspiration on Tuesday night. It was the non-partisan Election Day, and though twenty-four year incumbent Mayor Adam Schneider was ultimately re-elected to a seventh term, his victory came by a much smaller margin than anticipated, a sign to those who backed Grant that re-alignment might be near.
Only two hundred and forty eight votes separated the incumbent from his rival (1,461 versus 1,213), an unprecedented turn of events that represented a drastic departure from the overwhelming dominance Mayor Schneider displayed during the two previous races. Having come closer to being elected than any of his predecessors, Avery Grant remained optimistic as he conceded the race and encouraged his supporters to remain involved in the community.
Grant also reaffirmed his commitment to a clean and respectable campaign.
“We don’t want any dirty tricks,” he said, recounting an early discussion with his volunteers. “This is serious business, because this is the city that I love and that my family loves.”
His enthusiastic supporters, several of whom stood along Brighton Avenue waving signs in a last minute attempt to get out the vote, warmly received Grant upon his arrival. In addition to campaign volunteers and the familiar faces that have accompanied the candidate during the duration of his journey along the campaign trial, former City Councilman Brian Unger, who has kept a somewhat low political profile over the last four years, was also on hand to show support for the mayoral aspirant.
David Pizzo and Cynthia Branch, the two independents running for City Council, were also present. Though the three were not running mates, there was a great overlap of support between the non-incumbent candidates, and all expressed the belief that their candidacies and platforms had a positive impact on the direction the race took.
“It was a very important election and will make a difference in this city,” said Pizzo. “It always has. Every election does.”
“Long Branch is my city,” Branch said. “When I leave town, I am always happy to return. I might go visit another place, but I just can’t wait to get back to my hometown. Hopefully, with the results that we had as a team against Adam Schneider’s team, it might shake them up and [make them] think, ‘you know, we might need to do a little bit better for the people in Long Branch.’”
Branch hinted strongly at another run in the near future, channeling former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger when she boldly proclaimed, “I fought a good game, and I’ll be back!”
One of the defining features of this year’s race was very low voter turnout. One thousand eight hundred and eighty nine less ballots were cast in the mayoral race than last time around, when Mayor Schneider defeated Councilman Unger by eight hundred and sixty three votes. Former mayoral candidate Alfie Lenkiewicz, who was defeated by five hundred and seventeen votes in 2006, thought favorably of Grant, whom he described as “a good man,” but believes that apathy is largely to blame for the low turnout in recent years.
“I think that the community has become very apathetic,” Lenkiewicz said. “The candidates need to do a better job in inspiring the voters to get out and become more involved, empowering each and every individual in the community to take pride in their city.”
All of the Schneider Team’s Council candidates were re-elected. With 1,793 votes, Council President John Pallone represented the top vote getter; the former mayoral candidate and brother of popular Congressman Frank Pallone served on the City Council during the 1990s before being re-elected as an independent in 2010. Mary Jane Celli, a veteran member of the City Council, was the next highest vote getter, with 1,688 votes, followed by Joy Bastelli (1,633), Kate Billings (1,615), and Michael Sirianni (1,586).