By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – Ben Forest has been a familiar face at Red Bank borough council meetings over the past two decades, usually found sitting in the first few rows. But after an announcement last week, Forest has his eyes set on another seat altogether.
Forest, a West Side resident and activist, announced via his personal Facebook page last week that he is running in the Democratic municipal primary later this month for his party’s nomination in the Red Bank mayoral race.
“I take no pleasure in announcing my candidacy against Mayor Pat Menna today,” Forest said in his video. “I’ve known him for probably 30 years as a town attorney, councilman and as a mayor. I think too many issues have gone unaddressed and unresolved in our town, and I think it’s time for a change.”
Forest, a married father of two, has been a Red Bank resident since 1996 and lives on Locust Avenue on the West Side. He has been on the Red Bank Board of Education since 2005 and was elected as board president unanimously three times. He’s also been a board member with Clean Water Action since 1994.
Forest said over the past few years he’s aired opposing views on two developments. The first was 55 West Front St., approved for development last year as the Element, a four-story, 35-unit residential complex on a vacant lot across from Riverside Gardens Park and now under construction. He was concerned with how the redevelopment process has played out.
The other issue, Forest noted, was how the borough council has handled the White Street parking lot development and the ongoing conversation of whether or not a multistory parking garage should be built on the municipal-owned property.
“It’s clear that the leadership in town needs to be reevaluated. There are just too many things not getting done.”
Other platforms Forest supports are a thriving downtown, a data-driven solution to Red Bank’s parking issue, a safe and walkable community, updating Red Bank’s master plan and embracing Red Bank’s strong cultural roots.
“I love the culture. I love that I can walk to a theater,” Forest said. “We want this to continue and we want to help.”
After some jostling over the past few months, it seems the Democratic primary race for mayor has slimmed down to two candidates – Forest, and incumbent mayor Pasquale Menna, now nearing the end of his third term as mayor.
“Ben has every right, and so does anyone else, to submit their nomination,” Menna said. “I look forward to it.”
Menna told The Two River Times earlier this week he anticipates he will again seek reelection as mayor.
“The council in Red Bank, with my leadership, are trying to grapple with a number of important issues that are still unfinished,” he said. “We’re trying to get some more accomplishments done.”
In December, former Red Bank councilman Michael Dupont said he was considering a run for mayor, but has since changed his mind because of some business opportunities he wants to pursue, he said. Dupont, a Democrat, said Wednesday he is fully endorsing Menna for re-election.
Dupont was ousted from Red Bank’s governing body in 2015 after losing to current Republican councilman Michael Whelan by only three votes.
Forest said Red Bank Democrats will hold a municipal convention on Feb. 25 to pick between himself and Menna, so far the only two candidates in the ring. A candidate has until Feb. 16 to file a letter of intent, Forest said.
The mayor’s seat in Red Bank comes with a four-year term and is selected through its own ballot question in November. Menna hasn’t faced a challenger for mayor since current Republican Monmouth County Freeholder John P. Curley ran against him in 2006. Menna won that race by a 106-vote margin. Former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna Jr. did not seek re-election in 2005 after 16 years as mayor.
This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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