By Thomas DeSeno
Currently, City Council candidates in Asbury Park run “at-large.” That means the whole City votes for each candidate.
In a Ward system, the City is broken up into neighborhoods. The people only vote for candidates from their own neighborhood, or Ward. It ensures that each neighborhood is guaranteed a representative on the Council. Newark for example has 5 Wards. You can have a mixed system too, with some Ward candidates and some at-large candidates.
Wards work best when a City has distinct neighborhoods with differing interests. Split at Asbury Avenue and Memorial Drive, there are 4 neighborhoods in Asbury Park – the Southeast (the commercial downtown), the Northeast (lots of apartments and condos), the storied Southwest (an impoverished area with federal housing and Asbury’s oldest families), and the bucolic, sublime and beautiful Northwest (Asbury’s most livable neighborhood, judging by every metric). There is a new 5th neighborhood brewing, but more on that later.
These neighborhoods do have different needs, so it makes sense to ensure a council person from each. A Ward system is ideal for Asbury Park. In a monolithic community like Wall Township, it would make no sense.
There is a ballot initiative that voters will lever this November to move Asbury Park from an at-large system to a Ward system. First let’s look at two reasons why this is an exemplary idea. Then we’ll see why it won’t happen. The City Council opposes it. Their reason why is obvious (but you can’t really blame them, politics being politics).
Good reason #1: The Southwest rarely has a representative on the City Council and it is the blackest, poorest and most troubled part of the City. Impoverished people have a dismal voting record and even worse record running for office. So, the Southwest, neglected for 50 years, needs a guaranteed watchdog on the council. Maybe it would not have been neglected for 50 years if it had one.
The current City Council opposes this, and they have every political operative writing news articles to make it look like a great blue bishop wave is opposing it also. They point out that current councilwoman Yvonne Clayton is from the Southwest. However, as a recent online conversation with Mayor Moor proved, Yvonne is a current anomaly. When asked to point out prior Southwest residents on the council, His Honor named former Mayor Butch Saunders. That was 2 decades ago. He named about 3 others, and they served 30 and 40 years ago. Less than 5 representatives in 40 years. When Clayton doesn’t run again, the Southwest will have the same problem again.
The Council even trotted out Joe Grillo, Asbury Park’s Democrat high chair and “outrage team” member (Joe never misses a chance to virtue signal his outrage at Asbury’s frequent spontaneous protests – that he plans). Joe claims that former Mayor Kevin Sanders was from the Southwest and served several terms. That’s fake news. Mayor Sanders lived on Pine Street, so far from the Southwest he was in eyeshot of Wanamassa. But don’t blame Joe; it’s common for white progressives to make sweeping but false generalizations about black people, like Joe did here, by assuming that all Asbury’s blacks live on Springwood Avenue. In promoting his writings on social media, not one City Council member corrected Joe.
Good Reason #2: There is an emerging problem. Remember that “5th neighborhood” referenced above? Consider that the Beachfront Redevelopment Plan includes 3200 new condominiums. That’s potentially 6400 new voters. In a City of 16,000, that’s a 40% increase in population. That’s more people than currently vote in any Asbury Park election. I don’t have to tell you this next part because it should already put a lump in your throat: Middle and upper-middleclass people vote and run for office in great numbers. If Asbury Parkers don’t pass a Ward system now to protect we natives from the colonizers, you’ll wish you had. If you don’t, our little stretch of urban sand will soon be run by people who don’t know Blue Bishop history, the people or the other neighborhood aesthetics.
What’s the “obvious” reason the City Council opposes this? The same obvious reason prior City Councils opposed it when other bright people brought it up: In Asbury Park, candidates run together on “tickets.” Put in a Ward system, and suddenly our current Mayor and Council may have to run against one another. You’ll never see ANY sitting Mayor and Council support this. Power never commits suicide. You have to take power from the powerful.
But good luck overcoming this Herculean City Council. It’s not just their “single party motif in a single party City” that keeps them popular. The bigger problem is Asbury Park has no contrary media to oppose them or oppose the beachfront redevelopers who support the Council.
The Publisher of the Asbury Park Press is too busy enjoying community service honors, like being a Parade Grand Marshall and throwing parties at the Stone Pony. You think he wants to miss out on that fun by speaking truth to power in Asbury Park about the Council or developers?
The triCityNews simply will NOT allow contrary voices to their beloved Council and beachfront developer. That once great alternative paper has turned into a personal diary, with columnists who write in the first person about their own lives (as if anyone cares). That Publisher will excoriate any local citizen who dares take on the Council or the Beachfront developer, even stooping to calling good men “pigs” and worse names, as he did to Pat Fasano. Fasano is Asbury’s best resident who invested heavily here before others would give us a chance, even that Publisher.
As for the Coaster? It’s not their job to go deep and thank goodness for that. It’s a wonderful, fluffy and light reprieve from the news grime. May it never change.
So, this ballot initiative next month will fail; not because it should, but because its current proponents didn’t realize the strength of this Council. They didn’t know how lame and lap-doggy the current Asbury Park media has become. Asbury Parkers can recall some very powerful and unbeatable regimes in our lifetimes. Ray Kramer ran one. Frank Fiorentino ran another. Moor-Quinn is more powerful than both, because the others were constrained by a politically diverse electorate and an attentive media.
Oh, one more thing – the ballot questions next month seek to move Asbury Park from non-partisan elections to partisan elections. Good grief whose idea was that? Don’t you need two parties in Asbury Park to do that? There’s just Democrats here. Trump got 31% more votes here than McCain and 36% more votes than Romney, but he still lost to Hillary by 83% in a county he carried! There’s no Republicans here. That used to be different. The Southwest black community had many Republicans years back, led by the City’s real-life black superhero, the glass ceiling-busting Tom Smith. That community produced black doctors and lawyers, but no longer. Democrats took control and now the neighborhood is super-impoverished. You couldn’t scare a Republican out of the shadows in Asbury Park if Lindsey Graham marched down Main Street handing out free AR-15s.
Yet that might change. There may one day be Republicans here again – when the City fills up those 3200 condominiums with middle and upper-middleclass voters.
Tommy De Seno is a lawyer, political writer, and currently resides in the Smithsonian as the last conservative from Asbury Park.