2006-10-19 / Front Page
Candidates see future as united east, west sides
Candidates Night consensus that west side needs upgrades
BY LAYLI WHYTE
The 10th annual Candidates Night, sponsored by the West Side Community Group, drew one of the forum's largest crowds with about 150 people in attendance.
Among the issues candidates addressed were improving services to the west side of the borough, whether or not to build a parking garage, and the scale of future development.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates said they would like to see the commercial district expand to include Shrewsbury Avenue.
Daniel Murphy, Bridge Avenue, owner of Danny's Steakhouse on Bridge Avenue, said he was concerned about businesses in the borough.
"There are 13 stores empty on Broad Street," Murphy said. "What do you have in mind to help businesses in town?"
Democratic mayoral candidate Councilman Pasquale "Pat" Menna said Red Bank RiverCenter, which oversees the borough's downtown shopping district, should expand to the west side.
Menna said that he would like to see RiverCenter gradually expand along Monmouth Street to Shrewsbury Avenue as a way to link the east and west sides of town.
"We should have the same streetscape on the west side of town that we have on the east side of town," he said.
Republican mayoral candidate, Councilman John P. Curley, said that although he would also like to see commercial revitalization along Shrewsbury Avenue, he is not convinced that expanding the RiverCenter district is the way to do it.
"What I'd like to see on Shrewsbury Avenue," he said, "is affordable stores where people can shop. We have to keep rents down. I realize that the market does drive the rents, but we have to make it clear to the landlords that $40, $50, $60 a square foot is not reasonable."
Curley said that RiverCenter has not done a good job creating a mix of stores in the downtown, and that he believes that diversity within the commercial district is needed.
"I'd love to see a vibrant Shrewsbury Avenue corridor," she said.
"What's more important is to build a bridge between the residents of the west side and everyone else," she said. "We need to create the level of equal services for the west side. For instance, there is not a single crosswalk signal on the west side of town. We have the primary school over here, but no crosswalk signals. We have to come up with some practical plans to bring the quality of life on the west side to the point of the quality of life on the east side."
Cangemi's running mate, David Pallister, agreed that the west side could use more attention.
"Each [side of town] has its own character and its own problems," he said, "and probably always will. Maybe the west side needs more services and more attention."
Democratic candidates Arthur Murphy III, who is running for his second council term, and Michael DuPont, first-time candidate for a council seat, echoed Menna's idea of expanding the RiverCenter district further down Monmouth Street and along Shrewsbury Avenue.
"Shrewsbury Avenue needs traffic-calming," DuPont said. "We need to promote the theater district."
Affordability was also an issue many of the candidates touched upon, but the two parties expressed different ideas on how to achieve it.
James Harris, Mechanic Street, asked the candidates how they were planning to lower taxes.
"There are three places in my area for sale," Harris said, "and all for the same reason that I'm looking to go, and that's because we can't afford to live here."
In Curley's opening statement, he addressed his vision for a borough that is affordable for residents.
"My dream is for a Red Bank that creates affordable housing for all," he said, "with no 'for sale' signs standing as beacons for unaffordability."
Curley said that he stands by his plan to create a municipal budget by starting at zero and building the individual department budgets from there, as well as attempting to cut 5 percent from every department budget.
"Any politician who says they're going to lower your taxes is lying to you," Curley said. "The Borough Council controls about 23 percent of the tax bill that you get. More than 60 percent comes from the schools. What we can do is provide more streamlined, efficient services for you."
Menna said that contributing to the problem of affordability is the fact that the infrastructure in the municipality is aging, and that between 1997 and 2006 the borough has had to spend $1.8 million in water and sewer repairs, $5 million in road improvements, and $1 million for new firetrucks.
Menna criticized Curley for having voted in favor of these capital improvements, but voting against passing the budget for the past several years.
"Although he'll vote for individual line items," said Menna, "when it comes down to the budget, he refuses to vote for it so when he runs for office, he can say he voted against the budget."
Menna also said that with the large developments that will be added to the tax rolls next year, such as the K. Hovnanian headquarters on Riverside Ave-nue, the commercial district will be carrying more of the tax burden.
With calls from all sides for an expanded commercial district, the question of parking also came to the forefront.
Murphy said he supports and encourages the much-discussed plan to build a parking garage in the downtown.
"Red Bank should build it," he said. "Red Bank should operate it. Red Bank should own it. As a businessman, I see this as an opportunity for the borough to make money."
"I think we need a multi-faceted approached to solving the parking problem," Cangemi said. "I don't think we should spend $11 million of taxpayers' money, and risk that without putting the plan out for a referendum."
Pallister has called for a more walkable town, and said that some of the borough's parking problems could be solved with clearer signs indicating the parking lots that may not be as well known as the White Street parking lot.
"We may end up with a garage," he said, "but one without a hint of the burden being passed on to the taxpayers."
DuPont said that the public does not want to and should not pay for a parking garage.
"Should a plan come up for a parking garage that the public would not pay for," he said, "then we should entertain thoughts of a parking garage."
George Bowden, Hubbard Place, asked each council candidate to speak about their vision for the future over the next 15 years.
"I'd like to see the east and west sides of town joined together," said Murphy. "I think this will be a safer and happier place to live in 15 years. I think there are a couple more puzzle pieces to put together, but I think this will be a vibrant place to live."
DuPont said that he would like to see a thriving commercial district as well as preservation of neighborhoods.
"We are one town," he said, "and one Red Bank, and I'd like to see that promoted."
Pallister said he envisions a second downtown revitalization.
"I'd like to see Red Bank as more of a walking town," he said. "I'd like to see
more reasons for Red Bank families to come downtown."
Cangemi said that she would like to see more affordable housing for entry-level homeowners.
"I want to see an increase in single-family homes," she said, "and greater access to the river. I'd love to see a vibrant Shrewsbury Avenue business corridor."
During their closing statements, each of the candidates addressed the future of the borough.
"I think we have a mammoth task ahead of us," said Curley, "no matter who is elected. It is time for a change in Red Bank. The current administration has been in Red Bank for two decades, and it's time for a change."
Menna said he wants to keep Red Bank from once again becoming "Dead Bank."
"The Red Bank story is a good success story," he said. "The future is really in our hands. I am looking forward to a future Red Bank that is better than it has been up to this date."
DuPont spoke of a balance between preservation and progress.
"We need a spirit of cooperation on council," he said. "The current tenor of the council meetings cannot continue. Red Bank is a hip town, but more importantly, Red Bank has hip people and residents."
Murphy said he wants the community to keep moving forward.
"Maybe it's my fear of going backward," he said, "that gives me my drive."
Cangemi said residents should be able to remain in the borough and be a part of its future.
"I'd like to see us maintain a quality of life that doesn't push anyone out," she said. "I like that we're the coolest town in Monmouth County. I don't want to be the coolest city in Monmouth County. I want to see families staying in this town."
Pallister said he believes the borough is at a crossroads, and that the question people will ask themselves on election day is which way they want to move.
"In listening to the comments, concerns and questions tonight," he said, "I have no doubt that we are at a crossroads. We don't want to see 'Dead Bank' either. Just because we believe in smaller development with lower density doesn't mean we want 'Dead Bank.' In fact, it's just the opposite."