Asbury coup attempt: Ballot question would force new elections, bring machine politics to city

(NOTE: This commentary from triCityNews Publisher Dan Jacobson appeared in the Aug 9 edition of the paper. Since then, the Asbury Park city clerk announced that the ballot question will go forward in November.)

Hey, if you can’t win an election the old fashion way — by earning the trust of a majority of your fellow citizens — why not just throw the system into chaos, and then rig it to win?

And that’s exactly what a faction who oppose the city council want to do. It appears they’ll have enough signatures on a petition — you only need 273 — to put a question on Asbury’s November ballot that amounts to a mini coup d’etat.

Their ballot question would dissolve the current five member council, cut short their terms and force all five to run again next year. Keep in mind that in the last two elections, those council members won big mandates citywide in landslide victories.

Here’s the outrageous part: The ballot question would change our non-partisan system of government to a partisan one, where a handful of people in the Democratic Party will decide who gets the party’s nomination — and thus wins in our overwhelmingly Democratic city. Right now in Asbury Park, all council candidates run in one column without party affiliation. In a partisan system, you’d have Democrats and Republicans on the ballot.

Coup target: Mayor John Moor

Coup target: Mayor John Moor

These coup plotters actually want to establish machine politics in Asbury Park. Normally, the battle is to get rid of that. Opponents of the council can’t win with the level playing field of non-partisan elections. Instead, they want a partisan system where they could move to take control of the Democratic Party — and thus control who wins elections in Democratic Asbury Park. Even worse, those elected would be beholden to the machine that nominated them.

The coup plotters behind this say they want to enfranchise people. Bullshit. It doesn’t get much more disenfranchising than machine politics where a few party leaders, or just one chairperson, hold the power.

Even Joe Grillo, the current chairman of the Asbury Park Democratic Party, thinks this is nuts.

“Not only do I think that Asbury Park should be non-partisan, but I think all municipalities should be non-partisan,” Grillo said.

The city actually elected a charter study commission to recommend the best form of government for Asbury Park. After an exhaustive study and a ton of public meetings, voters overwhelmingly approved the current non-partisan system the commission recommended. That was only four years ago! Now the coup plotters want to overturn that.

Our open non-partisan system is the opposite of machine politics. All five council seats are elected citywide. No party machine dictates who wins or who has a leg up with a Democratic nomination. Anyone can run, with an equal shot at winning. All candidates run in one column without any party affiliation.

If there’s a crowded field of candidates, and no one gets over 50 percent of the vote for a seat, a second run-off election is held of the top two finishers. That guarantees every winner eventually gets the mandate of a majority vote. That’s important. By requiring all winners to get a majority vote, you unify a city like Asbury Park. It ensures that candidates seek support citywide.

Part of the coup attempt on the November ballot is to create three wards, each represented by a council person. So three of five council members would each represent a third of the city. Yeah, that sounds really unifying. The coup plotters will say that switching to three wards ensures that every section of the city, in particular the southwest, will have a representative. I’ll grant that’s a valid point — when made by someone without a hidden agenda.

But this isn’t about wards — otherwise switching to the machine politics of partisan government wouldn’t be a part of this. Partisan government is the real goal of someone, or some faction, behind this nonsense. Establishing a partisan political machine isn’t about enfranchising the people — it’s about disenfranchising them, by putting power in the hands of a few. It’s about finding a way to take power when you can’t do it with a fair vote on a level playing field.

Meanwhile, the immediate aim of the coup plotters is to dissolve the city council and force new elections, which would happen under their ballot initiative.

That means popular Mayor John Moor, who is favored to win a four year term this coming November, would be forced to run again a year later. Same with his running mate, Councilman Jesse Kendle, who’s up this year.

Meanwhile, the four year terms of the three councilwomen — Amy Quinn, Yvonne Clayton and Eileen Chapman — would be cut short, and they’d run again next year. It’s also possible two or three of these councilwomen would be in the same ward, meaning that one or more won’t be able to run. The coup plotters would love that. Yup, that’s really enfranchising too.

This has nothing to do with empowering sections of the city, as proponents hypocritically claim. This is the opposite. This is a game to reverse the last two elections which the council won by 2-1 margins — and to establish a political machine to control our city government and take power away from the people in every section of Asbury Park.