Asbury Park and Long Branch have long been viewed as something akin to sister cities. One-time tourist rivals, both communities were prestigious Victorian seaside resorts that competed to attract society’s upper crust to the pristine beaches and boardwalks. Both suffered economic downturns and the vengeance of the dreaded Garden State Parkway, which lured families further south to Atlantic City and Wildwood, and subsequently enjoyed comebacks as regional destinations in the 2000s. Yet, as with all things, the power to determine the ultimate future of these cities rests not in the hands of real-estate developers, party bosses, or the media, but with their residents, the voters who will take to the polls on Tuesday and elect their municipal leadership.
Both cities hold non-partisan elections, though Long Branch’s Mayoral and City Council races were conducted in early May. It was the same in Asbury Park until last year; holding General Elections in the spring is confusing to many voters, and it ultimately benefits incumbents by lowering turnout. Thus, the decision was made to change Asbury’s electoral model to mimic that of the traditional election by holding the non-partisan races in November. Also, the office of Mayor has changed from being appointed to directly elected, which is a first in the City by the Sea’s history.
Asbury Park: Mayor, Council, and Board of Education
This year, Asbury Park’s races have proven very contentious. Councilman John Moor is heading up the Asbury Together ticket, running to become the city’s first directly elected Mayor. It was an office most expected him to hold already, as he was top vote getter last election and precedent held whoever received the highest percentage of ballots for City Council would be appointed Mayor. Alas, it was not to be. A last minute deal resulted in Myra Campbell, Moor’s one-time running mate, becoming Mayor amidst an outcry of public criticism. Such is the way urban politics is often played. (Mayor Campbell is currently trying to defend her seat, running for re-election free of any down-ticket candidates, and Harold V. Suggs is also running for that office as an independent).
The Asbury Together ticket is the more diverse of the two competing for Council. As their website states, they specifically sought to form a slate that reflected the city’s demographic makeup. Among these candidates is incumbent Councilwoman Amy Quinn, champion of grassroots politics and something of an icon among the city’s political opposition. She represents the transparent government Asbury long lacked, and as an interesting side-note, earned a place in history as being part of one of the first same-sex couples legally married (on the boardwalk, none-the-less) following the overturning of New Jersey’s gay marriage ban last year.
Then there is Jesse “Coach” Kendle, an usher at Good Hope Baptist Church, who (as his nickname suggests) coached Little League and basketball in the city. Environmentalist Joe Woerner, a city native who has been active in trying to save the undeveloped North Beach, and has also been involved in a number of worthy causes both in and outside of Asbury Park, is making his second run, having previously sought a Council seat as a running-mate of the then-allied Quinn, Moor, and Campbell. Yvonne Clayton, a former Eastern Region Sales Support Manager at AT&T who relocated to her childhood hometown in 2011, rounds out the ticket with her promise to fight for the “equitable use of the city’ s resources.” More detailed profiles can be found online at www.asburytogether.com.
Asbury Together is pitted against the A-Team, which includes Mayoral candidate Remond Palmer and Council aspirants Derrick Grant, Duanne “King” Small, Rosetta Johnson, and Kenneth Saunders, Jr. This year’s race has proven particularly messy; the A-Team has claimed a fabricated endorsement from Senator Cory Booker and collected vote by mail ballots of questionable legality. Despite such shenanigans, the race is expected to be close. This is unfortunate, because a truly healthy urban coastal city requires leadership concerned with more than gaining power and political self-preservation. It isn’t unfair to ask: if this is how the A-Team behaves on the campaign trail, how would their City Hall look?
The A-Team has also fielded candidates for the Board of Education, including Arva M. Council, Felicia Simmons, and Stephen Williams. They are running against the Moving Forward ticket, which includes Charles Smentkowski (a former city police officer who has received the endorsement of Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini and the Asbury Park Press), Angela Ahbez, and Carol B. Jones.
Long Branch: Board of Education
Anyone who reads this blog likely remembers Long Branch’s mayoral race last May, when challenger Avery Grant came within a hair of unseating twenty-four year incumbent Adam Schneider. All sitting Council members were re-elected. That said, the Board of Education’s election occurs in November, and there are now five candidates running for the three contested seats.
Among the hopefuls are incumbents Allan Menkin, James Parnell, and Armand Zambrano, and two high-profile challengers, David A. Brown and Rose Marie Widdis. Due to the makeup of the field, one incumbent is essentially guaranteed re-election, but there is the distinct possibility the other two seats could go to challengers. To be clear, none of the candidates running are newcomers to the politics: Widdis is a Board of Education alumnus, who served from 1996 until 2011, and Brown, aside from being former Chair of the local NAACP, worked on Long Branch Tomorrow, the original waterfront redevelopment plan that was proposed in the 1990s.
Judging by the prevalence of lawn signs, which have sprouted near houses and on local roads in recent weeks, the battle lines are already largely drawn; however, the undecided were granted a sneak peak at what their prospective Board of Education members would do if elected during last Thursday’s debate. The incumbents touted their record in elevating the school district’s performance.
“We have more students enrolled in our A.P. classes, more than ever right now,” James Parnell said. “We supported teacher growth through professional development seminars, so I think by educating our employees and our administrators, giving them proper training and development…we are on the right track!”
In regards to tracking this student progress, the issue of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the components of the ever-controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative, was raised. Many, particularly on the political Right, have sounded alarms that Common Core is a disaster waiting to happen, and much of the media coverage surrounding the implementation of the various components of the program has gone to drumming up such ideas. Thankfully, these sentiments were absent from the debate, where each candidate seemed to hold a favorable view of PARCC.
“You always hear about how our children and our country are falling behind other countries in educational standards,” Allan Menkin said. “So what happened was they put together these set of assessments that students are required to achieve during their education periods…these standards they need to hit to be able to advance, and these skills they have acquired will help them when they are out of school whether they go to college, or they go into the work force or armed forces.”
Armand Zambrano spoke in similar terms.
“Basically what these tests are doing is seeing that the child achieves these standards,” said Zambrano. “Years ago, we had the California tests, the TerraNova tests; its no different than the PARCC test. Whether its Math, Reading, or Social Studies, it’s the amount of work the student retains within the years of being in different parts of education.”
Rose Marie Widdis, who supports “individualized programs” to benefit students, outlined the characteristics of an effective Board of Education member as someone who recognizes “everyone should work together for the good of the children,” and also added the government has to “keep the taxpayers in mind.”
“You need to be sensitive to the needs of the students,” Brown said. “And sensitive to the needs of what’s going on in the district.”
If you live in either city, it is important to familiarize yourself with the municipal government. High-profile partisan races may seem more exciting—they appear on TV, are talked about on the radio, and give the impression of being more important—however; the future of your community is determined mostly at the local level, by the Mayor, Council, and Board of Education. Nowhere has this been clearer than Asbury Park and Long Branch. So, on Election Day, remember that the ballot doesn’t end at Freeholder.