By John Burton
RED BANK – If the numbers stay the same as the unofficial vote tallies from Tuesday’s Borough Council election, both Republicans and Democrats will have to settle a council seat for each.
While unofficial totals showed victory for Republican Cindy Burnham and incumbent Democrat Kathleen Horgan, the Democrats seem to not be ready to relinquish full control over the governing body just yet.
With close numbers among the four candidates, incumbent Democrat Sharon Lee was trailing Burnham, the top vote-getter, by 25 votes.
Former mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. said, if the numbers remained as close after the provisional ballots are counted, the Democrats would give “serious consideration” to requesting a recount.
As of Wednesday morning the unofficial totals, which included absentee ballots, showed Burnham with 1,292 votes, just one vote more than Horgan’s 1,291 votes. Democrat Sharon Lee posted 1,267 votes and Republican Sean Di Somma trailed with a tally of 1,185.
According to law, those seeking a recount must file a petition with the Superior Court within 15 days of the election – that’s Wednesday, Nov. 20, according to Bertha Sumick, Monmouth County special deputy clerk for elections.
The more than 1,000 provisional ballots from around the county are expected to be evaluated and totaled Nov. 13-15 with officials hoping to certify election results by Nov. 18, Sumick said.
Burnham was nonplussed by the prospect of a recount.
“If there’s a recount, there’s a recount and I’ll abide by it. I don’t know what else I can do,” she said.
If the outcome remains the same, Burnham’s narrow win will put a Republican on the six-member council that hasn’t had a member of the GOP presence since 2007. That occurred when Grace Cangemi won the remainder of an unexpired term held by a Republican. She subsequently lost her bid for a full three-year term.
Democrats have controlled the council and mayor’s seat for more than two decades, and has held the full control for a number of the those years.
As election returns started coming in Tuesday evening, Di Somma faced the reality of not taking one of the spots. He quickly insisted he was satisfied with the outcome. “I’m really happy. I think we really changed this town,” he said. “I think we’re going to build this party.
“Finally, we’re going to break this Democratic hold,” he added. When Burnham realized the numbers were looking promising for her, she appeared visibly startled. “Are you kidding?” she said, wide-eyed when told she was leading. “I don’t believe it.”
The election for Burnham, who describes herself as a citizen-activist, was her first run for office. She has long been at odds with the borough council, taking up various battles and going head-to-head with the governing body. She has alleged backroom dealings and political machinations on such things as establishment of a nature area on borough-owned riverfront property and on the location of a community garden. The discussions about the issues were contentious and heated – and so was the campaign.
On the Democratic side, party members were holding out hope that uncounted ballots would swing their way. They expressed some bitterness with McKenna saying, “This isn’t over yet.”
Lee, a council member for nearly nine years, said it was the first time she could say she was “concerned” about the town’s future.
“It’s been a grueling campaign,” said Lee, a lifelong borough resident who vowed to continue to be involved in the community.
“Maybe I’ll become a citizen-activist,” she quipped, a clear swipe at her Republican opponent.
She has not ruled out a future run.
Di Somma, who had been making his first run for office, acknowledged the lengthy, strenuous campaign had taken its toll.
“A lot of my work obligations have fallen to the wayside,” he said, adding that while another run may not be in the offing, he’s “certainly staying involved.”