Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Stability and Lethargy in Asbury Park

By Tom DeSeno, MMM Southern Monmouth Reporter and FoxNews Pundit

The most interesting politics at the Jersey Shore has offered up another meager helping of numbers to crunch in last night’s City Council election.

Asbury Park puts the “poly” in politics, being one of the most racially and religiously diverse communities in all of New Jersey. The census will tell you the dense little City (double entendre when speaking of its management) is over 17,000 people packed into a little more than a square mile. However, those who live and work there will tell you the figure should be well over 20,000, due to the number of people who escape the attention of census takers as they work to escape the attention of Homeland Security’s Immigration Section.

They are also a people who, as a rule, hate to vote.

In 2001, 24 candidates ran for 5 open seats, 2476 voted, or 32% of the registered voters.

In 2005, 19 candidates ran for 5 open seats, 1915 voted, or 25% of registered voters.

Last night 12 candidates ran for 5 open seats, 1218 voted, or an embarrassing 17% of registered voters.

Asbury Park used to have 18 voting districts. They are down to 9. If someone challenges this at the county level, they may be down to 2.

One thing last night’s election proved (which is being proved in elections all over the country) is that the “Obama Bump” at the polls is reserved only for races where Barack Obama is running. A whopping 5,000 people voted in November’s Presidential election in Asbury Park, and they voted 9 to 1 for Obama. That means 75% of November’s Asbury Park voters stayed home because Obama wasn’t running.

That also means Republican John Curley will win a seat as County Freeholder in November, since he only lost last November because of the “Obama Bump.”

A difference this year in Asbury Park was that there were only about half the usual candidates. This was a refreshing change, since Asbury Park usually sees a great number of politically insane people running for office. This year, all of the candidates seemed worth a damn.

You’ll have to pick your favorite political analysis for why the interest in running for Asbury Park City Council or voting in its elections is dwindling:

- People are happy with the existing council so no one cares to vote;
- The economy has people too worried about other matters to care;
- Those who are most involved in the City aren’t registered to vote;
- Quite simply, the residents of Asbury Park simply don’t care to vote.

Maybe it’s a mixture off all of it.

The numbers do show some changing dynamics.

The center of the political Universe in Asbury Park this past decade has been Sanders, Loffredo and Bruno, who each won their third term last night, which is quite an accomplishment in Asbury Park. Before them the end of your first term here was usually marked by the beginning of your first indictment from the prosecutor.

When they first ran in 2001, Sanders was originally not on the ticket with Loffredo and Bruno. Political expedience and common sense brought them together: Bruno represents the old-time Asbury voters, who are quiet, yet there, albeit dwindling in size. Loffredo is from an old time family too, but also represents the best of the activist Gay and Lesbian Community in Asbury Park. Mayor Kevin Sanders is from a genesis African American Community in Asbury Park and brings in the vote from the West Side.

Kevin Sanders also ran the local Labor Ready franchise in the City. It’s easy to get votes when you give out the jobs, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The team has proved quite formidable together, although any one of them would be in jeopardy without the team.

In 2005 Sanders received over 900 votes (half of all cast) in a field of 19 candidates. That blew away the field and was an enormous landslide, but it’s gone now. His third place showing put him just 12 votes in front of newcomer to politics (but not new to Asbury Park activism) Sue Henderson. Henderson received 9 more votes than Jim Bruno, the most vulnerable of the 5 incumbents who receives the least votes on his ticket.

That leaves Ed Johnson, who received the most votes last night. Don’t let his “smartest clerk in the world” persona fool you – Ed’s a great politician. In some respects, you might even say “sly.”

Originally appointed by Sanders, Loffredo and Bruno to fill a vacancy, he ran only begrudgingly with them in 2005, maintaining a shadow individual campaign in the background. It was a smart move. In that election, former councilman Jim Keady was landing heavy punches in the campaign against the incumbents (which earned him a seat). Ed managed to reap the votes of being both an insider and an outsider at the same time.

Ed Johnson has conducted himself the same way as councilman. For instance, on the hot-button issue of Eminent Domain, Ed has always voted against its use even when needed, leaving Sanders, Loffredo and Bruno to do the heavy lifting of voting for it. Yet when he was charged with writing the Springwood Avenue Redevelopment Plan, Johnson wrote into it that the City should have the power of Eminent Domain. Las Vegas odds say when a Springwood Avenue property comes to a vote for Eminent Domain, Ed will vote against it.

I deem him “Ed Johnson Kerry” – he voted for Eminent Domain before he voted against it. Like Bill Clinton he claims to be all things to all people on all issues, and it works for him – people are buying it.

This was the year the challengers could have picked off some incumbents. Amy Quinn was cream of the crop – a smart lawyer, volunteers mucho time to Asbury Park causes, is a double minority (woman and gay) and has the Asbury Park liberal aesthetic. But she ran alone. Kate Mellina was the rarity who won here running without a ticket. If Amy were on a ticket, she would have garnered the extra 88 votes needed to unseat Bruno.

Anthony Perillo’s showing was impressive for a second year newcomer. The formula for him to win next time is easy - stay involved and public for the next four years. If he disappears and shows up for the election 4 years from now, he’ll be no better than perennial last placer Harold Suggs.

Maureen Nevin and Rosetta Johnson did well and could have won but their campaign lacked on thing – former Councilman Jim Keady as a campaign manager. Jim knows how to bring the fight. Johnson likely knows more deep dark secrets about the City than anyone, and that should have been in media and on billboards throughout the election. Nevin successfully sued the incumbents in a Sunshine Law case. She had the moral high-ground against them, but didn’t make enough hay out of it.

This election also confirmed something we knew: AP Action, the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, is as useless as a milk bucket under a bull.

Started by the late great Joe D’Andrea as a group to do community projects, it has turned into a group that shows up election time to make endorsement and that’s it. No one would even know of them if Nancy Shields at the Asbury Park Press didn’t write about them.

AP Action’s endorsements always lose when they try to bring up a candidate that’s an underdog. Mark that – THEIR CANDIDATES ALWAYS LOSE. Why? A huge chunk of the Gay and Lesbian community doesn’t register to vote here. That, and there aren’t as many gays in Asbury Park as some are led to believe. Many have moved to Wannamassa and Shark River Hills.

The current City Council appears diverse: Three gays, two blacks, one woman and a disabled man. Is that diverse enough for this City? No Latino? No Haitian? No one from the Southwest (as usual)? No one who has ever had to meet a payroll? No Conservative? Faux diversity.

The challenges for Asbury Park are quite the same as always. A failing, segregated school district with a $90 million budget (almost all of it subsidized by State and Federal taxpayers) while about 90 votes gets you a spot on the Board of Education.

A struggling retail economy that sees more turnover in stores than the Florida Marlins player roster. A beachfront redevelopment still showing “Art-Wrecko” buildings paralyzed not just by the economy but also by the current set of participants. New data even shows rising crime rates.

Wow. All those problems and only a 17% voter turnout. Good luck, Asbury Park.

Here were the results:

Ed Johnson, 706; John Loffredo, 624; Kevin Sanders, 591; Susan Henderson, 579; Jim Bruno, 570; Amy Quinn, 482; Anthony Perillo, 474; Rosetta Johnson, 462; Maureen Nevin, 403; Kevin Michel, 399; Elisabet Pacheco, 283; and Harold Suggs, 158.


Clarence E. F. Hetrick said...

Asbury Park has been going downhill ever since I left office. (Hey, if there can be dead presidents and governors on the internet, why not dead mayors!) said...

Wow. Hetrick. Someone knows his AP history!

I'm impressed!