By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – Borough Democrats jumped out of the gate early to announce their candidates for the 2018 municipal election, a list that includes a longtime incumbent and two under-30 residents new to politics.
At an annual mini-convention held on Feb. 26, Mayor Pasquale Menna overcame a primary challenge and was nominated to run for a fourth term for the mayor’s seat. Political newcomers Hazim Yassin and Kate Triggiano were both picked to run for two seats available on the Borough Council.
Ed Zipprich, who is both the Borough Council president and Red Bank Democratic Committee chairman, said this year’s meeting was the first contested convention in over 20 years.
Menna has been mayor since being first elected in 2006. He had received public support from many voting Democrats, including new state Sen. Vin Gopal and state Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey (D-11), who all represent Red Bank. Menna was challenged by Ben Forest, a West Side resident, local activist and longtime member of Red Bank Board of Education. Forest subsequently endorsed the party ticket.
Menna told The Two River Times he was grateful to the party for reaffirming its support for him.
“The committee and the local party recognizes that stability has been good for Red Bank,” he said this week. “Although all of us have had our differences on the municipal council on various policy issues, we look to maintain a pretty steady progressive and civil outlook.”
He said Red Bank is going through a thorough “municipal review” as it looks to solidify its place in Monmouth County, which consistently leans to the right politically.
“I think that I have the vision as well as the historical background of being involved in some of these issues to try and deal with these new challenges, at least for a few more years,” Menna said, alluding to addressing af fordable housing obligations and finding the right solution to Red Bank’s downtown parking shortages. “I can help prepare the groundwork for others to take the mantle.”
Menna has been a consistent face of Red Bank Democratic politics for years. He served on the Borough Council for 18 years prior to being elected as mayor 12 years ago. Seeking his fourth term, Menna has never faced a primary challenge and has also only faced a general election challenge once – that was in 2006 against Monmouth County Freeholder John P. Curley, a Republican.
Should Menna win a fourth term, he would tie former mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr., his predecessor, as Red Bank’s longest-serving mayor.
Menna is a lawyer with Red Bank offices and holds a number of political appointments, most notably as the attorney for the Borough of Matawan.
Joining Menna on the ticket this year are Yassin and Triggiano, two local activists turned first-time candidates.
Yassin is a 28-year-old resident of Branch Avenue who serves as an alternate on the borough Planning Board. He works as a financial representative for the United Wealth Group, based in Monmouth Junction. Last year he served as the president for the American Muslim Action Network and before that was a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Monmouth County, located in Middletown. He’s also treasurer of the Red Bank Borough Education Foundation, which provides STEAM grants to teachers.
Yassin said he became an activist last year while working on Gopal’s state senate campaign, which translated to this push to run in Red Bank. He said his two main issues are focused around supporting education services and revitalizing Red Bank’s downtown.
“We need to be smarter about how we’re developing and be smarter with how we interact with the business community,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of building that bridge with RiverCenter,” Red Bank’s business district organization.
Yassin also said he’s heard from residents that shopping in the downtown has become too expensive and he’d like to inquire about “bringing some of those lower-cost stores in” to make “a better experience for everybody.”
Triggiano, his running mate, has been a familiar face at local progressive events and happenings. She’s a 29-year-old homeowner on Leighton Avenue. Triggiano works as an organizer for Clean Water Action, an environmental advocacy group. She also serves as the chair to the borough’s environmental commission and is on the Red Bank Zoning Board.
Triggiano hopes to be “a bigger part of the conversation and the future of our town,” while focusing on issues important to her: environmental work, infrastructure improvements and looking to strengthen Red Bank.
“Having all of your residents being comfortable in your town is important,” she said. “I don’t think that’s an East Side/West Side thing, I think that’s a Red Bank thing. If any part of our community feels under attack or unwelcome, I would stand for them.”
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE
While Red Bank’s Democrats have already decided their game plan, the borough Republicans are still crafting theirs, said Michael Clancy, chairman of the Red Bank Republican Committee.
“We’re still in the process of figuring that out,” he said this week. “I can’t comment on who it’s going to be yet, but we’re still in discussions about what we’re going to do.”
While they have until early April to officially file petitions, those candidates could be the two incumbent Republicans on the Borough Council – Mark Taylor and Michael Whelan, elected in 2015. Clancy said they both have expressed interest in running again.
Clancy also said “it’s a possibility” the Republicans will put a candidate up for the mayor’s race, something they haven’t done for 12 years.
“There’s potential talks about running somebody up against (Menna),” he added, declining to say who the candidate could be.
This article first appeared in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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