Avery Grant’s Pioneering Vision for Long Branch: “A Community.”

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

When retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Avery Grant, a veteran of the Vietnam War, first moved to Long Branch, he was taken not only by its natural beauty, but also the strong sense of community that permeated the seaside city. For the next several decades, the East Orange transplant immersed himself in this new hometown, participating in civic organizations and direct activism alongside his neighbors. Grant served on the zoning board, organized the Concerned Citizens Coalition (which advocated on behalf of residents whose health was adversely impacted by the toxic remains of a gas plant), and was elected to the Board of Education in 1998. Now, with years of community service under his belt, Grant hopes to take his activism to the next level: City Hall.

Last month, Avery Grant announced his mayoral candidacy, challenging incumbent Adam Schneider, who is seeking an unprecedented seventh term. Why has he entered such a difficult race? To improve the political climate of the city, which he feels is too closed off from the public as a whole, and to provide accountable leadership to the thirty-thousand people who call Long Branch their home.

As is necessary with any candidate for public office in Long Branch, Grant has a vision for the famed oceanfront. He believes residents should be excused from paying for beach access and, if elected, will push to exempt them from having to purchase beach badges. He envisions a more eclectic waterfront, one that aims to bolster the local economy by attracting visitors of all ages, and has promised to push for the immediate reconstruction of the boardwalk, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. In the past, Grant has also floated the idea of a public pool, which would allow the city’s youth to familiarize themselves with swimming before venturing into the ocean.

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The reconstruction of the boardwalk is becoming one of the most contentious issues facing the city’s waterfront.

“I don’t know why we charge residents,” he said. “The residents should go to the beach for free, and that would be one of the things I would definitely do. The other thing would be that I would work to complete the boardwalk.”

Grant was a vocal opponent of the use of eminent domain to redevelop the city’s waterfront for private and commercial use, an issue that largely divided the city when construction of Pier Village began over a decade ago. In subsequent election cycles, Mayor Schneider has inevitably faced other challengers who were critical of this policy. Four years ago, the anti-eminent domain sentiment was incorporated into the platform of Councilman Brian Unger, who made opposition to the seizure of homes one of the cornerstones of his mayoral bid. In 2006, two mayoral candidates, Alfie Lenkiewicz and Reverend Kevin Brown, took similar stances during debate appearances.

Grant is also looking for ways to make government more efficient, and to that end, has proposed the use of an in-house lawyer and development teams, which could work on future projects, including the proposed development of a new oceanfront pier, and save substantial amounts of money by allowing staffed employees who are already on the city’s payroll do the initial legwork.

Of course, Avery Grant has made it clear he is running for Mayor of Long Branch—the entire city—not just the beachfront. Thus, the scope of his focus will stretch far beyond that of the sea. For example, he believes the recently announced redevelopment of Broadway needs to be done in a transparent manner and has called for providing incentives for homeowners to update their own properties.

Long Branch Mayoral Candidate Avery Grant @ The Portuguese Club.

Long Branch Mayoral Candidate Avery Grant at The Portuguese Club.

“We have housing complexes here that are fifty percent undervalued and yet they haven’t given their tenants a rent break,” Grant said, noting that he would also “like to bring in an incentive for people to improve their homes, where it is not if you improve your home, your [re-evaluated] and your evaluation goes up. I’d like to give them a five year break, like we give some of these developers, and say, ‘improve your home and five years later we will change it to what it’s valued at.’”

With the May 13th non-partisan election now roughly a month away, Grant’s campaign has kicked it into high gear and will host a free event at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch on Sunday, April 12th at 5:00pm. Though he knows the next four weeks will be a true challenge, the candidate is excited to take his message to the voters because, even after all these years, it’s still all about the community for Avery Grant.

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Republican Senate Field Narrows After Turkavage Withdraws

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

Though the race is still hotly contested and the party heavily divided, the Republican Party managed to inadvertently narrow its Senatorial primary field to four candidates earlier this week. In a surprising development, budget-hawk Robert Turkavage, a former FBI agent who was backed by the Hunterdon County GOP, failed to secure his anticipated spot on June’s ballot. Although the campaign collected the necessary number of signatures to qualify, they were not delivered to the Division of Elections before the filing deadline, effectively squelching his Senate bid.

Rich Pezzullo (above)  expressed sadness at Turkavage's withdrawal.

Rich Pezzullo (above) expressed sadness at Turkavage’s withdrawal.

Because there is still no clear frontrunner or party favorite, the absence of a fifth contender will almost certainly benefit the remaining Senate hopefuls, who can now vie for the votes Turkavage would have received. In a competitive race, this could mean the difference between first and second place. However, despite this, news of Turkavage’s withdrawal did not necessarily elicit joyous reactions, even from the other candidates. Rich Pezzullo, the conservative whose aggressive candidacy was recently endorsed by the Monmouth, Union, and Camden County Republican organizations, said he was saddened by the news his former opponent wouldn’t appear on the primary ballot.

“I have tremendous respect for Bob [Turkavage],” Pezzullo said. “I was disappointed to lose his voice in this important primary.”

Such mutual respect is rare in contemporary politics; however, thus far, the GOP Senate race has remained surprisingly civil. As of this moment, the Republican Party’s June ballot will be comprised of Jeff Bell, Brian Goldberg, Rich Pezzullo, and Murray Sabrin. All of these candidates are Right-of-Center on fiscal issues, with varying degrees of social conservatism.

With the Primary Election now only two months away, seven county parties have endorsed Goldberg as their chosen candidate. Similarly, Pezzullo has received the backing of three, while Murray Sabrin and Robert Turkavage were both endorsed in one county each (Middlesex and Hunterdon, respectively). Though Bell’s candidacy has remained largely off the radar, the former Republican nominee has some high-profile supporters, including Mayor Steve Lonegan, Gary Bauer, and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, which could bode well in his favor.

In other-words: amidst the sea of endorsements, county conventions, and Turkavage’s withdrawal, it’s still impossible to predict who will emerge from the primary victorious.

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In Senate Race, Republican Unity Still Elusive

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

In the months leading up to last year’s Senate Special Election, it was a foregone conclusion that former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan was to become the Republican nominee. Though the partisan primary was technically contested, with physician Alieta Eck launching her own underdog bid, the Mayor’s name recognition and fundraising ability guaranteed victory and, as a result, the GOP largely unified behind his candidacy. It was the Democratic Party that saw a divided race. Four candidates, each well known, vied for the nomination, which ultimately went to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

This year, the tables have turned, and as the Democrats rally behind their incumbent Senator, the Republicans have found themselves in the midst of a hotly contested primary with no visible frontrunner. Five candidates have emerged to seek the party’s support, and though there are ideological differences between them, they are united in one respect: all of them are conservative. Indeed, the GOP seems to be headed Rightward, not surprising given Mayor Lonegan’s respectable showing last October. While moderate State Senator Joe Kyrillos, the nominee in 2012, received thirty-nine percent of the vote against incumbent Senator Bob Menendez, the ever-conservative Mayor Lonegan earned forty-four, a sign to some that the Rightwing message holds greater appeal.

Of course, those were extenuating circumstances. It was an unheard of October Special Election, where turnout was exceptionally low. This hasn’t stopped several conservative contenders from picking up the mantle from Mayor Lonegan’s candidacy. The field of candidates includes Ramapo College professor and former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Murray Sabrin, former Conservative Party candidate Rich Pezzullo, Republican activist Brian Goldberg, FBI agent Robert Turkavagae and Jeff Bell, a party veteran who was the GOP’s Senate nominee in 1977.

Attempts to zero in one a frontrunner have been largely futile, with the party divided amongst each. Last Saturday, Rich Pezzullo, who recently received the backing of the Union County GOP, received the Monmouth County Republican Party’s endorsement. An hour later, he lost to Murray Sabrin in neighboring Middlesex. Meanwhile, Brian Goldberg snatched up the party’s support in Ocean County.

Dr. Murray Sabrin at the Middlesex County Convention. (3.22.14)

Dr. Murray Sabrin at the Middlesex County Convention.
(3.22.14)

All of the candidates are conservative, though Murray Sabrin represents the lone libertarian of the bunch. Anti-war and pro-individual liberty, his candidacy is best characterized as a philosophical continuation of Congressman Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns, with which he was closely involved. Indeed, the elder Paul recently endorsed Sabrin’s candidacy, as have State Senators Michael Doherty and Steve Oroho, as well as Assemblywoman Allison McHose and Assemblyman Parker Space, all regarded as prolific figures in New Jersey’s conservative movement. To complicate matters, Rich Pezzullo received the endorsements of State Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, while Jeff Bell has Mayor Steve Lonegan’s backing.

With the county conventions now winding down and the primary rapidly approaching, the New Jersey Republican Party will need to select its torchbearer for the 2014 Senate election. Though the incumbent seems an unbeatable powerhouse, the direction from which the GOP plans to challenge him is telling, and exactly how socially conservative they would like to go over the next few months will greatly impact their showing in November.

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Murray Sabrin: Time is Ripe for Libertarian Movement in New Jersey

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

Last year, former Newark Mayor Cory Booker was elected to the United States Senate following a special election that pitted the Twitter superstar — among the most recognizable politicians in the state — against ultra-conservative Republican Steve Lonegan. It was a polarizing race, and though most considered the competition to be a near-guaranteed win for the Democrats, the Republican nominee came closer to victory than any other GOP candidate in recent memory. Now, with the remainder of late-Senator Frank Lautenberg’s term coming to a close, Senator Booker is up for re-election. (Read more @ IVN)

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Middletown: 350 Years in the Making, But What’s on the Horizon?

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

January is at hand, and while to many that simply means the season of snowplows and disastrous weather is nigh, to those in local government, the first month of the year represents a time of great change. Many municipalities have now officially entered the process of governmental reorganization, physically implementing the outcomes of the previous election cycle; it is a time to welcome new officials to office and unveil policy goals for the coming year.

Among the communities that recently restructured their local government is Middletown, where the Republican ticket, comprised of incumbents Gerard Scharfenberger and Kevin Settembrino, received over sixty percent of the vote last November. While that victory assured continued GOP control of the Township Committee—indeed, Republicans fill all six seats—the actual makeup of that body has been altered, with Stephanie Murray assuming the role of Mayor.

Murray, who was formerly the Deputy Mayor, a position now held by Kevin Settembrino, was first elected in 2012. Though she is a relative newcomer to the political scene, her first term has been characterized by a “baptism by fire,” which included the tremendous ordeals of Hurricane Sandy, during which Middletown triumphed and retained its prestige as one of the more desirable and safest communities in the state.

With this illustrious past, one must wonder what the future holds? Well, according to the members of the Township Committee, there are numerous good things on the horizon.

“Our main focus is to craft a budget that will be as lean as possible while coming in under the governor’s two-percent cap,” said Committeeman Scharfenberger, whose term as Mayor ended earlier this month.  “In addition, we are going to aggressively pursue the attraction of more businesses into town to expand our commercial tax ratable base and help ease the burden on residential taxpayers.”

Making sure that fiscal responsibility reigns supreme may be among the foremost priorities for Middletown’s leadership; however, it is not the only thing they hope to accomplish.

“The Township Committee, in 2014, is looking to expand it’s ability to communicate with residents,” said Committeeman Tony Fiore, who knows the importance of being able to reach out to the community in times of need, having served as Mayor during the trying days of Hurricane Sandy.

“We are currently in development of a mobile app that will allow residents to receive alerts and see what’s going on in town on the go,” he said. “We are also working to enhance our services such as snow plowing and leaf removal by installing GPS units that will interact with our GIS system to give us on-demand results of streets that have been plowed during snow storms and where the trucks are for example.”

With a “Polar Vortex” bearing down upon the GardenState and inclement conditions so severe that Governor Christie was forced to cancel his inaugural ball, most residents will probably welcome anything related to snow plows with open arms. Of course, the Middletown Township Committee’s aspirations don’t end with the spring thaw.

“We will embark on celebrating everything that makes Middletown great through Middletown 350,” said Committeeman Fiore, referencing the Township’s ongoing anniversary celebrations. “Middletown 350 is an opportunity for residents to come together to celebrate our deep roots in history, volunteerism, and the like.”

Middletown has made history as an innovative and, despite its size, close-knit community for the past three-hundred and fifty years; the Middletown Township Committee plans to continue that tradition into the coming year, under the guidance of a new mayor and proven leadership.

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New Article @ IVN: Christie Whitman Supports Open Primaries, Inclusive Politics

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“I support open primaries, which force candidates to talk to everyone, not just the small minority who vote in primaries,” said Governor Whitman. “The ten percent average primary turnout we have in this country has produced the polarization we are experiencing.” [Read More]

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New Article @ IVN: Same-Sex Marriage Legal in NJ

By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay

“As has been the case in almost all places, New Jersey’s gay rights struggle has had a long (and often perilous) history. From its earliest days, when Manny’s Den, a popular gay discotheque, fought for its right to serve homosexual patrons, to Governor Jim McGreevey’s now-infamous declaration (“I am a gay American”), the charge towards marriage equality has made great strides in recent years, despite numerous hiccups. Though victory seemed to be at hand on several occasions, disappointment and false hope were recurring trends for advocates of marriage reform; it wasn’t until a recent court ruling that same-sex marriage became the law of the land.” [Read More]

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