Red Bank Candidates Meet at Forum

October 29, 2018
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Red Bank council candidates met to discuss the issues at a forum Tuesday.

By Chris Rotolo |

RED BANK – On several occasions during the municipal candidates forum Tuesday, a few residents said the theme could be “a borough divided.”

It was a contentious evening that saw spectators berating candidates, nominees on both sides of the aisle firing back, and accusations of racism and bigotry launched between audience members. The annual forum was sponsored by the West Side Community Group and hosted by the River Street Commons.

In Red Bank, the longtime Democratic Party mayor is facing a Republican challenger, and the race to succeed Mark Taylor and Michael Whelan, two Republican councilmen on the Democratic Party-dominated Borough Council has attracted two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent.

In their responses at the forum, the candidates revealed how they see Red Bank’s diversity differently. When asked how to bridge the gap between the two distinct social classes calling Red Bank home, Borough Council hopefuls Allison Gregory and candidate Katherine Triggiano gave contrasting answers.

The annual forum was sponsored by the West Side Community Group and hosted by the River Street Commons.

Gregory, a Republican, denounced the zoning, demographic and school system disparities between the East and West sides of the borough and said Red Bank was “one town.” She advocates for communal unification.

But Triggiano, a Democrat, said embracing the differences is important. “I’m OK with having an East Side and a West Side. I think identity is important, and we should embrace those identities, not erase them. I think that’s how we become whole,” added Triggiano, who is chair of the Environmental Commission and a member of the borough Zoning Board.

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Gregory, who is running alongside the borough’s GOP chairman, Michael Clancy, used the topic as a launch point into a cornerstone of her campaign platform, explaining her belief that the Red Bank Primary School – a pre-K through fourth-grade facility on River Street – is “completely overcrowded.”

Gregory said there had been an influx of students at the school over the last five years and asked, “Where do those students come from? Because there hasn’t been that much redevelopment in Red Bank.”

Red Bank Republican Party chairman and candidate for Borough Council Michael Clancy.

She also said there are potentially life-threatening code violations within borough residencies designated as single-family dwellings that “have entire families living in one bedroom. It’s dangerous.”

Clancy said a way to combat school-crowding concerns, while still generating tax revenue, is to strategically develop properties and rehabilitate others.

“We have a high demand for apartments and a low supply. But if you build a certain kind of apartment that attracts millennials without children, you can bring in tax revenue without burdening the school system,” added Clancy, a member of the Housing Authority.

The conversation played off another in which candidates asked if they were for or against Red Bank’s designation as a “sanctuary city.”

Triggiano said she is “very proud of her inclusive community,” which drew overwhelming cheers and applause from audience members, while her Democratic running mate Hazim Yassin – a member of the Planning Board – fully backed the statement and expressed pride in Triggiano’s efforts to front a campaign that contributed to Red Bank’s adoption of its “welcoming and inclusive community” resolution in April 2017.

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Independent candidate Sue Viscomi, who resonated with community members on many subjects, including methods of community connection through school system and borough-related functions, stood out on this topic with an ability to speak to the matter from a different perspective.

A native of Ecuador who emigrated to the United States with her family when she was very young, Viscomi said she understands the painful stigma of walking the streets of Red Bank with brown skin. “When I walk down the street, people say, ‘Why don’t they call ICE on her?’ ”

However, Viscomi said, “We need to support our Chief of Police (Darren McConnell),” noting the department head’s opposition to the resolution as a public safety concern.

Clancy agreed with Viscomi, stating, “We don’t want to provide our residents with a false sense of security and then not enforce the laws. The Attorney General hands down how our chief of police should handle this. Anything other than is not law.”

This article was first published in the Oct. 25 – Oct. 31, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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