Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meeting the Candidates in Middletown

Yesterday, Oct 15th, the Lincroft Village Green Association hosted a candidates night in Middletown, moderated by the League of Women Voters. It was a good occasion to meet the local candidates and hear them speak, although people in attendance were quite partisan, meaning that everybody already knew who they're voting for in November. The meeting was set up like a Q&A session, with the moderator asking a question, and the candidates answering it in turn. There was no actual debate, although some shots were fired. The questions were mostly about local issues and generally, with very few exceptions, all candidates seemed to agree on the same positions, although differently formulated.

So here are the candidates we met last night:

Steve Massell is the Republican candidate for the Middletown Township Committee. He was the new kid on the block, the only candidate with no prior political experience. He seemed nervous in the beginning but as he got more comfortable he was getting better and better at expressing his views. He was right on point with all the questions. His main point is about preserving the quality of life in Middletown, the city where he was raised and where he returned to raise his own kids.

Steve Massell

Patrick Short is the Democrat candidate in Middletown. He's running for his second term and in his first 3 years he leaned strongly left, following the Democrat party line coming down from Corzine, Cryan, Caliendo, Norcross and the other party bosses. When he wasn't reading the answers, he was hard to follow as he was often losing his train of thoughts.

John Curley is the Republican running for the 2nd year in a row for the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders. Among all five candidates present he stood out as the best speaker and he's a great campaigner. He has both the most experience in politics and also in business, as the owner of a GM car dealership.

Sean Byrnes is a Democrat Middletown Committeeman and he's also running for Freeholder. He was the lawyer in the group, and he was just talking and talking and talking, without really conveying any message, but he was very good at filling the entire space allotted for each question. The appeared the same way he's in the committee meetings, arrogant and with an air of superiority. He was trying to look cool and gave the impression that he doesn't belong with the crowd, but it's something he has to do.

Stan Rosenthal is an independent running for Freeholder and was the big unknown of the meeting. He's obviously an outsider, and he performed like an outsider. He looked amateurish, and his main selling point was the need of an independent on the board. Not sure if anyone understood what his positions are, other than that. He also delivered the funny quote of the evening, saying that when 40 politicians were arrested in July, none of them were independents, they all had a D or an R next to their names. He also answered very honestly to a few specific questions, saying that he doesn't know the problem to well, and wouldn't want to comment on something he doesn't know. Very straightforward, and more politicians should say that, although it makes them look bad. After all, the candidates knew the question before, so there's no excuse for researching the issue.

I won't go into all the questions and issues discussed, I'll just talk about a few of them.

This is becoming a major issue in NJ, especially for nice suburban towns like Middletown. Building hundreds of low income housing units as mandated by the State would gravely affect the quality of life, with overcrowding of schools and streets and raising crime rates. It's interesting that both Massell and Curley but also Short and Byrnes seemed to agree on that point. But Steve Massell (who promised to fight COAH with all his means, if he's elected) correctly called Pat Short and Sean Byrnes for voting against a resolution condemning COAH in the Middletown Township Committee (the resolution passed 3-2). Byrnes and Short went on the defensive, and they explained their vote by a technicality - claiming that some of the numbers in the resolution were not accurate. But they didn't openly show support for COAH, although they're secretly for it (but they know you can't win in Monmouth County if you support COAH). John Curley went further, asking for a complete dismantling of this program, while Rosenthal was the lone COAH supporter, saying his daughter lives in affordable housing and it's a good thing to use taxpayers money on. The COAH issues came up a few times, including in regards to the Avaya property in Lincroft where Middletown has to build its quota of low-income housing.

Sean Byrnes

The problem with COAH is that towns and counties have little say in it, as it's a state regulation. Even more, it's not a statute but a court ruling, so if elected even Chris Christie can't do much about it (despite his strong claims), the only thing he can do being to gradually appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, but he'll meet strong opposition from the legislature on that.

Two questions were asked regarding the formation of committees. The first one was about a finance committee in Middletown. Massell spoke against it, while Short supported it. Personally I can't say I'm totally against it. It shouldn't be done the way the Democrats wanted, like an ad-hoc committee that would just delay the budget approval, but could be a general committee. Middletown is a big enough township to need its own finance corps, as none of the committee members are economists.

The other questions about the creation of an ethics board, both at township level and at county level. John and Steve were against it, calling it just a layer of bureaucracy, while Sean and Stan supported it. As John said, we don't need this new bureaucracy, we already have a very good ethics board called the FBI, which arrested quite a few politicians in recent years. Pat and Stan seemed to avoid answering the question.

Patrick Short

A few questions revolved around traffic management issues, especially on Route 520, which seemed to be the only road in town since it was so prominently featured (or maybe it's because the meeting was held on Route 520). One of these issues was about creating roundabouts on 520 to help with traffic management. Everybody except Rosenthal (who said he doesn't know the problem well enough) seemed more or less in favor of it. I think they just didn't know what position to take and skirted around the issue. And by showing any level of support it was clear they have no clue about it. Roundabouts are a traffic hazzard, and the trend is to eliminate them (as it recently happened in the Wall Twp area, although there are still a few dangerous ones around there). I am against them from 2 personal experiences. First, as a cyclist, I often have to go through the existing roundabout at Brookdale, but I usually ride into incoming traffic and cut to the paths of Thompson Park, rather than having to go through that nightmare. Second is that they seem to be quite popular in Europe, especially France, where they're a nightmare. I drove 200 miles from Paris to Normandie, and I went through probably 40 roundabouts, and they're a big, dangerous nuisance. But it's typical politician attitude, to support something that sounds good even if the proof is to the contrary. At least John Curley said he'd first listen to an engineering research on this. I'm relieved to know that there are a few committee members in Middletown who wouldn't vote for it.

Another traffic issue was the installation of speed bumps and speed humps on side streets. Massell took the time to explain to us the differences between humps and bumps, gave the example of accidents happening because of the roundabouts, but didn't openly oppose them. Short delivered again the politician response, saying let's install them (plan, pay, use the resources), and then see if they're good or not (the general Democrat party line, used in the stimulus, health care and other bills). Byrnes said... well, no idea what, but he spoke for a minute and a half, while Curley gave the best response, saying that as the owner of an auto shop he's all for speed bumps, as he likes getting all the shock absorbers repair business. Rosenthal, as expected, said he's not familiar with the issue. If you ask me, I'm ready to send all my suspension repair bills to the township committee members, if that happens (but again, some existing committee persons are already against it).

John Curley

There were many other questions asked, about pollution, Belford flooding, etc, but there were no big differences between the answers, no controversies. I think both Steve Massell and John Curley will win by large margins, and there are Democrats who already admitted defeat.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Chris, I just saw this post as a letter to the editor on the Atlantic Herald's Web site. I Googled you because I wanted to send you a note of thanks for your excellent synopsis of the Middletown candidate meeting. Your comments and insights were very helpful to me, as I had wanted to attend but couldn't. Again, thanks for taking the time both to keep up this blog as well as to write in to readers through letters to the editor. I'd urge you to keep doing so!

    Terri Cullen
    Middletown, NJ