In a stunning rebuke to Mayor Matt Doherty who campaigned hard for its passage, Belmar voters today overwhelmingly rejected borrowing $7 million to rebuild two pavilions on the boardwalk.
Doherty told MMM this afternoon that he expected the turnout would be like that of any general election and that his side spent as much on this Special Election as they have in any general election. Doherty spent $10,411 in his 2010 campaign for mayor, according to his reports at the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Thomas E. Burke was a leader in the movement to force the referendum and in the campaign to defeat the measure. Burke told MMM that his side spent between $500 and $1000 and had a volunteer campaign team of about 20 people.
1,797 voters cast a ballot. 1,041, 58%, voted against the borrowing. There are 4,407 registered voters in Belmar.
Doherty, a Democrat, is running for reelection this fall against Republican Councilman Jim Bean.
Both Doherty and Burke said the the pavilion bonding issue has divided Belmar and that it is Doherty’s challenge to bring the community back together. But they disagree over what tonight’s result means for Belmar politics and Doherty’s reelection.
Burke, who is Vice Chairman of the Belmar Republicans, said tonight’s results were a “death blow” to Doherty’s political ambitions. “He put everything on the line for this and lost. This wasn’t a partisan election, but most Belmar voters are Independents and many fed-up Democrats crossed over to vote against this referendum. This was a victory for Belmar Republicans”
“Let them think that,” Doherty said when informed that the Belmar Republicans think they have him on the ropes, “this was a single vote on a single issue. Yes, the town is divided over the issue, but it is my job to bring us back together. I’m happy so many people came out to vote and express their opinion. Now we will solicit ideas from the public about what we should do about the pavilions.”
“November will be about my overall record,” Doherty continued, “In four years I’ve been mayor, there have been no tax increases and there has been more private investment than there was in the previous twenty years.”
Bean, who is on the ballot against Doherty, was more circumspect than his Vice Chairman Burke. “People are worried about our debt and whatever the future holds,” Bean said, “today’s vote was about the pavilions. I think there is a disconnect between Mayor Doherty’s vision for the future of Belmar and what the voters want.”
Party lines have been blurred in Belmar politics, over the pavilion bonding and in general.
Former Mayor Ken Pringle, a Democrat, worked hard against the bonding for the pavilions, to Doherty’s chagrin. Asked if Pringle might support Bean in November, Burke said, “You’ll have to ask him, but he won’t support Matt.”
Republican Governor Chris Christie has been a frequent visitor to Belmar, especially since Hurricane Sandy. Christie always praises Doherty during his public appearances in Belmar. Christie told the Town Hall Meeting in the borough last month that he would vote Yes for the bonding if he lived in Belmar.
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