Making Asbury ungovernable: Ripping apart a proposal that would rip our city apart

The following is the Message from the Publisher that appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of triCityNews:

If you’re an Asbury Park resident — or anyone who’s interested in our city — sit back and listen to a tale of typical political idiocy that routinely plagues our tiny metropolis. This week I rip apart a proposal that would rip Asbury apart.

A political faction that can’t win an election collected enough signatures on a petition to get a question on the November ballot that’s as divisive as it gets. I don’t think most people even understood what they were signing.

Asbury Park has five council members (the mayor is a member of council) who represent the whole city. The ballot question would divide our city into three wards with one council member each. Only the remaining two council members would be elected citywide. It’s crazy.

How divisive can you get? Talk about an ungovernable city. Each ward council person will only be interested in their own little section of Asbury Park, trying to get reelected in it, and not care about the rest of the city. This would tear us apart.

Oh, and did I mention that if it passes, the five-member council is dissolved and they all have to face election next year? That’s the real motivation here. This is a recall election in disguise. Those pushing this include members of the now defunct A-Team political organization that lost 13 of the 13 council seats they contested in the last three elections. How about just gaining power the old fashioned way? Like by winning an election fair and square.

A ward system is absurd for Asbury Park. We’re way too small. Large cities have wards — in such cities Asbury Park could be a ward itself. Wards are appropriate for cities with hundreds of thousands of people. You can’t expect a five member city council to represent that many constituents. So you divide up a much larger city into wards.

In addition, a ward type system is almost always found with a directly-elected powerful mayor running a city day-to-day. Like Bill de Blasio in New York. Or Cory Booker when he was mayor of Newark. That type of mayor is similar to a President or Governor. They look out for the whole city. A city council with wards acts like the legislative branch.

That’s not even close to what we have in Asbury Park. We have a five member council elected citywide that sets policy. Our city manager runs the city day-to-day. That’s completely appropriate for Asbury Park.

I certainly don’t want my own ward councilperson. I live in northeast Asbury Park, and we’re doing just fine here, thank you. In contrast, the southwest quadrant of our city faces tremendous challenges — and I want every member of council focused on that section of the city as a top priority. With this ward proposal, two of the five council members’ attention will automatically be directed away from the southwest (assuming that section of the city gets its own ward, as proponents are expecting). In fact, those two other ward council members are supposed to be focusing on their own wards, not the southwest. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

God, this is so stupid. Our city is small enough where you can reach a council member with a problem. Residents call Mayor John Moor all the time and he responds. That’s one reason why he’s running unopposed this year. Councilman Jesse Kendle is also running and is expected to win. They would get new four year terms.

If passed, the ward ballot question will cut short their four year terms after a year, and force both to run again next year. It will also cut short the four year terms of the three councilwomen — Yvonne Clayton, Amy Quinn and Eileen Chapman — and force them to run next year. Total chaos. Some of our council members may find themselves in the same ward, and they just won’t run again as they’re all politically aligned.

That’s what the organizers of this thing are after. Chaos, so they can finally win an election. Excuse me for doubting their sincerity. The petition that got this ward question on the ballot also included a second question, now also on the ballot, to switch our council elections from non-partisan, where all candidates run without party affiliation, to partisan where candidates run as Democrats or Republicans.

In overwhelmingly Democratic Asbury Park, whoever gets the Democratic Party nomination will win. Thus whoever controls the Asbury Park Democratic Party will control the city — the very definition of machine politics. It doesn’t get much more disenfranchising than that. Even current Asbury Democratic Party Chairman Joe Grillo says it’s nuts. But those behind these two ballot questions obviously see a fight to control the Democratic Party as their best ticket to power, since gaining it the old-fashioned way — again, by winning an election fair and square — hasn’t worked out.

There is a five member “Committee of Petitioners” listed on the petition that got both the ward and partisan questions on the November ballot. Interestingly, two of the five Committee of Petitioners say they’re against partisan government, even though they were sponsors of the petition that placed it on the ballot! I’ve yet to hear from the other three if they support partisan government. I suspect I won’t. So just where is this coming from?

The only way the ward and partisan questions pass is if there’s confusion on the ballot itself, as the wording on this stuff can get pretty convoluted. Hopefully, people will just vote no and we can move on from this typically Asbury threat of political chaos.

Otherwise, our city will rip itself apart with wards, while partisan machine politics will increase the risks of corruption, infuriate people who are disenfranchised and trigger brutal fights to control the local Democratic Party.

Of course, the triCityNews wins either way. If these questions pass, man will we have a ton to write about!