By John Burton
With Election Day less than a week away, mayoral races are heating up in several two river towns.
Sea Bright, Atlantic Highlands, and Little Silver all have contested elections for their four-year mayoral terms. Rumson, too, will be electing a mayor, but with incumbent Republican John Ekdahl running unopposed.
Earlier this year, veteran Little Silver Mayor Suzanne Castleman, a Republican, announced her decision not to seek another term.
After Castleman’s death on July 29, the county Republican committee and the majority of the borough council named GOP Councilman Robert Neff Jr. as interim mayor, to fill the unexpired term. Neff won his second term on the borough council last November and is now running as the GOP candidate for election to a full term as mayor.
Also running for the seat is Daniel Levine, an Independent and the current council president, who is completing the third year of his first borough council term.
Neff, 49, Winding Way South, is a lawyer who has lived in the borough for 17 years. He said this week he was seeking the mayor’s post because of his public service experience as a member of on the borough council. “It’s something that gave me an awful lot of satisfaction,” he said.
The mayor, as he sees it, is to be the municipality’s chief executive. “Your job is to set the agenda,” he explained, and communicate with department heads and with the public. And in an age of shared services and state mandates concerning budgetary constraints, Neff said an important aspect of the office involves interacting with other local, county and state officials. “As mayor you have to increasingly look beyond your borders,” he explained.
As for the challenges, the major one is, “It’s that constant battle between rising costs and decreasing revenues and mandates from Trenton,” he said.
Levine, 72, Westwood Court, has lived in Little Silver for 42 years, and for 33 of them he has owned and operated Little Silver Community Hardware, Church Street. And as the borough council’s only Independent member “I’m not aligned with anybody’s thought process or agenda.” And that would serve him well as mayor, he explained. “Maybe a new approach needs to be thought of,” he said.
“A mayor should be out front, accessible, be involved in as many areas as possible,” Levine said. “And to make things happen.”
Living and working in the community, “I’m willing to have that time,” he said. “You have to have an open dialogue all the time.”
The latest dialogue between the two candidates has resulted in a little dust-up in the closing days of the campaign. Neff had responded to a flier distributed by Levine, listing his accomplishments.
In Levine’s literature, he states he was “instrumental” on a variety of fronts including working with county officials for a new bulkhead at a local bridge. Neff, apparently took exception to the Levine’s characterization of his role in the efforts. And in response this week, Neff said, “If you’re just going to talk about what you do, you need to be very careful about taking credit for things that a lot of people have had input in,” he said.
Levine this week countered that he was indeed involved in the list of activities and accomplishments he noted. “There is no question about it,” he said, but acknowledging he could have used other adjectives other than “instrumental” but thought it was appropriate.
In Atlantic Highlands incumbent Republican Frederick J. Rast III is seeking his second term as mayor. Hoping to unseat him is Democrat Paul Cavise, a local lawyer.
Rast, 67, Eighth Avenue, is a licensed private investigator, who also owns several commercial properties in his community. He had served on the borough for three years and then came back to run and win the mayor’s seat four years ago.
Rast said he can point to a record of accomplishment during his administration, which includes finally moving forward with the long discussed approximately $5 million borough hall/public library/police headquarters construction; and his and the council’s work on dissolving the Atlantic Highland-Highlands Regional Sewerage Authority, which he has long said would mean savings for taxpayers. “We accomplished a lot in the last four years,” he said, giving acknowledgement that it is in a large part the work of his hardworking borough council (which has four Republicans and two Democrats. “I’m really happy we have a good, cohesive council,” he said.
He’s seeking the second term because, “I want to keep the town on track.” By “on track” he meant by “keeping our pencils sharp,” and spending frugally and working to improve the community. His agenda, he said, was “Making government run efficiently and friendly.”
“My proudest accomplishment,” he pointed to, “is that I removed all of the political turmoil,” which marked public council meeting in the past,’ he said, with the current council makeup being a civil and well intention group.
Cavise, 61, East Washington Avenue, sees the last four years differently.
Cavise, who ran unsuccessfully for borough council three years ago, said this week, “This administration lacks vision, completely no imagination. They put their energies in the same old, same old, same old. But they need new, different, better.”
He said there are missed opportunities, to utilize the efforts of volunteers to enhance a dreary, and increasingly vacant, business district (Why not paint murals on the sides of buildings? he asked.) and to maximize the municipal harbor in its earning potential. Officials should be looking at ways to make the town a destination, like other communities have, such as Red Bank and Keyport. “That’s basically what I’m trying to do,” he said, “just put Atlantic Highlands on the map.”
Sea Bright, the smallest of the towns with a mayoral race in this area, has three candidates seeking an open seat. Incumbent Mayor Maria Fernades, a Democrat, decided not to seek re-election due to health considerations. Incumbent Democratic Borough Council member Dina Long, who has been on the council since 2002, is now the Democratic candidate for mayor.
Also seeking the office is Republican Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams and Independent candidate Christopher Sandel.
Long, 42, New Street, is an assistant English professor at Brookdale Community College. When Fernandes made her announcement, it had Long “recognizing I have a good working relationship with all members of council, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and I saw the opportunity to step up and be the person to work well with all to achieve results for Sea Bright,” she said.
Long pointed to her experience serving on most of the council’s committees and her time as council president, as examples of her experience to make inroads on long standing issues in the community such as the heavy regional school tax burden, the long debated cell tower, the flooding the town experiences, and she hopes to increase communication between officials and the residents. “I believe I have the best understanding of our local government and our local government’s ability to provide services,” among the candidates, Long said.
Sandel, 50, Willow Way, is a financial consultant who has lived in the community full time for seven years (and another seven on a seasonal basis) and is making his first run for elected office as an Independent. And what he lacks in experience, he said, he’ll make up with passion. “I bring give-a-damn,” he said, meaning he would be active and available for residents and businesses. “I’ll be a proactive, communicative mayor and I’ll be very involved,” he said.
The issues for him, Sandel said, is addressing the flooding issue and to jumpstart the stalled discussion on redevelopment.
Kalaka-Adams, 61, Ocean Avenue, is a medical publisher, who has lived in Sea Bright for more than 30 years. She had served a four-year term as mayor prior to the current administration. “These are challenging times right now,” she said. “And I understand that government must do more with less.”
And that would require her experience and her relationship with the Republican county and state representatives, she explained. In addition, Kalaka-Adams noted, “I have started a number of things and I basically wanted to finish them.” And that would include re-examining the beachfront development initiative that had begun during her term as mayor, as well as looking at such issues and establishing a public pool for an additional revenue source; and to address such long standing issues as flooding and school taxes. “And try what we can to get that cell tower here,” she said.