The candidates for Long Branch Mayor and Council all participated last night in a debate sponsored by The Link News and the League of Women Voters before an audience of voters, mostly supporters of one of the slates, in the auditorium of Long Branch High School.
Mayor Adam Schneider, Council President John Pallone, School Board Member Avery Grant, and their running mates all showed up for the third scheduled debate. Pallone and his team skip the first two debates. Schneider and Pallone are both running with a full slate of council candidates. Grant is running with two council candidates. Long Branch voters will elect a mayor and full five member council to lead the city next Tuesday, May 8.
Grant and Pallone have both previously run against Schneider.
Grant lost to the mayor four years ago by 9% in a race that Schneider acknowledges he took for granted. Only 2694 of over 13,000 registered voters participated in the 2014 non-partisan municipal election.
Pallone ran for council as part of Schneider’s team in 1990 and lost to Schneider by 10% in 1994, He was elected to the council in 2010, by 11 votes, running against Schneider’s team and was reelected as a member of Schneider’s team in 2014.
On the issues, there was little of substance separating the mayoral candidates last night or in the campaign to date.
Long Branch’s ongoing redevelopment is a given for both Schneider and Pallone. The fundamental difference between them is whether or not the city should require developers to use union labor. Pallone wants to require union labor for construction projects in the city. Schneider has not and says he will not impose a union labor requirement, he said, “because it doesn’t work.”
Not surprisingly, Pallone has been supported by a barrage of negative mail about Schneider sent by a union related PAC, Stronger Foundations. Schneider characterized the mail and “dishonest and despicable.” He noted that neither he nor Grant have sent any mail to voters yet in response to a question about how the candidates would return the city to its motto, The Friendly City, after such a negative mail campaign. Stronger Foundations has also backed candidates in municipal races in Hoboken and Bayonne.
Pallone denied any knowledge of who is sending the negative mail and complained that Schneider is falsely blaming it on him. Pallone did not condemn the content of the mail.
Grant, 84, wants to bring a greater sense of community to the city and wants people to smile at each other more. He answered most of the questions last night with antidotes of his service in Vietnam, his service as the City Engineer/Public Works Director in East Orange, and his youth.
Pallone is making a code enforcement and abandoned properties west of the waterfront a wedge issue in the campaign, claiming that Schneider only cares about oceanfront development. Schneider defended the efforts of the city’s code enforcement staff, noting that over 550 property owners per year are brought to municipal court for code violations after all other efforts to motivate owners to maintain their properties are exhausted. The mayor said that the code enforcement staff is out in the city encouraging compliance daily.
Those attending the debate last night hoping for fireworks were disappointed. After responding angrily on social media to the Pallone/Stronger Foundations mail and money in recent weeks, Schneider kept his cool last night and emphasized his record of improving the quality of life in the city over the last 28 years. “I’ve only ever made one promise,” the mayor said, “and that is to work everyday to make the city a better place. We’ve done that and will continue to do so.” He emphasized how much safer the city is due to roughly 40% increase in the size of the Police Department, increased open space, parks and recreation, and a stabilized tax base supported by the new developments. Schneider thanked Grant for reminding him to smile.
With a week to go before Election Day, both the Schneider and Pallone camps say the election will be close. There are rumors of polls conducted by Stronger Foundations that say the race is too close to call, however we have not heard from anyone who has been polled.
*Update: Since posting this article, we heard from a Tinton Falls resident who says he was polled via cell phone regarding the Long Branch race.
Videos of both the mayoral and council debates are expected to be posted on the city’s Youtube channel later today.