Candidates Night Reveals Plenty of Questions, Concerns
The four candidates vying for two council seats fielded questions and provided a little fire Wednesday night at the Westside Community Group's candidates night.
At its annual candidates night Wednesday, the Westside Community Group offered Red Bankers the chance to meet, address and ask questions of the four candidates running for council seats in the upcoming November elections.
Though some residents were content to simply sound off on issues facing the borough and sometimes the country at large, evading the question part of the evening’s question and answer format, many took the opportunity to find out where the candidates stand on several key issues and what they hope to achieve over the course of the next three years if elected.
Taking advantage of the annual forum, the 15th one that the community group has hosted, this one at River Street Commons, the candidates took aim at the important issues – and sometimes each other – over the course of the nearly two-hour debate.
Council members Ed Zipprich and Juanita Lewis, both wrapping up their first terms on the all-democratic council, will face off in the Nov. 8 elections against Republicans Mary Grace Cangemi, a former councilwoman, and Joe Mizzi. While Zipprich and Lewis focused on their achievements with the council, promising continued progress – the same promise they make on their campaign signs – Mizzi and Cangemi say they offer what the borough’s council has lacked for the past several years: a difference of opinion.
“People have asked me, ‘Why are you running for council again?’” Cangemi addressed the crowd of more than 50 people in her opening remarks. “It is not an easy job, it’s a difficult job, a challenging job, but a rewarding job.”
Cangemi said she feels as though a significant percentage of the population isn’t having its voice heard by the Red Bank’s democrats. This percentage of the population, she said, a sentiment that was later seconded by Mizzi, represents those who want to see a return to a more fiscally responsible board.
Mizzi, who relayed a story about interview with and eventual hiring by the Internal Revenue Service in his opening, said spending in Red Bank has increased steadily over the years and needs to be curbed.
Though he’s identified as a republican, Mizzi said it’s not a political party that’s pushing his campaign, but a commitment to Red Bank to help change the way it approaches spending.
“I don’t believe in labels of any kind,” he said. “I’m not running as a republican, I’m running as Joe Mizzi. I feel I have something to offer.”
Though Lewis and Zipprich took turns relating their accomplishments with the council – both were involved in the repair of public fields at the Count Basie Park, and other projects – each took the opportunity to promise the audience that the commitment to the community they’ve shown in their time as members of the council would remain going forward.
Zipprich said he understands some of the struggles Red Bank is facing. Like every other town in the country, the poor economic condition continues to be a struggle for home and business owners.
“Juanita and I are very, very hopeful,” he said. “We have made a commitment to our community to ensure that it continues to thrive.”
Though the debate remained mostly civil throughout, a spot of aggressive dialogue followed the speculation of just how much the separate candidates are interested in representing Red Bank. Though it began with an early question from a borough resident over why the prospective republicans wanted to serve on council despite not attending public meetings, the issue lingered.
Eventually, a defensive Zipprich, taking umbrage with the idea that he and his council mates might fail in representing all of the borough’s residents, lashed out against Cangemi for failing to come to a single council meeting in the three years since she lost out on a reelection bid, despite her own claims that she was going to be a council watchdog. Mizzi was also targeted for failing to come to public meetings since losing out on his election bid last year.
Cangemi, however, counted by saying attendance isn’t an entirely accurate gauge for a person’s interest in local politics, noting the ease with which agendas and minutes can be obtained online.
“What matters is,” she said, answering a similarly framed question about a lack of urgency on the part of the republicans. “Is after you’re elected, are you able to provide the service you promised? It’s not about campaign strategy, it’s about service.”
Be sure to check out the attached video for remarks from each candidate.