I am the only candidate in this primary race who has held public office, having been elected to the town council in Asbury Park in 2005. At the time of my campaign victory, I was the only person from my ticket to join the entrenched opposition. It was made clear to me the day after the election that I would need to find ways to work with my colleagues. I remember distinctly, the then Deputy Mayor waving three fingers in my face and telling me, “All that stuff you talked about on the campaign trail. You need three votes to make any of it happen. So you better figure out how you’re going to get them.”
Despite my remaining true to my role as the “loyal opposition, I was able to find common ground and work with my colleagues to get things done. Some of the things I am most proud of:
The work we did with the Subcommittee on Affordable Housing of which I was co-chair, particularly the build out of 21 of the most distressed lots in the southwest quadrant of the City. It was a one-of-a-kind partnership between Habitat for Humanity, the Monmouth County Housing Alliance, and Interfaith Neighbors. Getting those single-family affordable homes in place transformed that neighborhood for the people who had been living with the blight for decades.
The work we did with the creation of Asbury Works, our job training and employment placement center, of which I was co-chair. We helped a lot of residents with everything from how to best fill out a job application, to how to dress for success, to practicing interviews. We also worked to match up employers who were working in the City and around Monmouth County with the residents who came through the center.
The work we did on the Springwood Avenue Redevelopment Committee of which I was co-chair. This was a monumental, community/citizen driven effort to modernize the redevelopment plan for the Springwood Avenue corridor. The award-winning plan is still being built out and each year brings new progress to the foundation that was laid over two-years of planning with a committee of dozens of residents and City staff members. Some of the highlights of the plan buildout - the Kula Cafe that offers affordable food to customers and job training for the hospitality industry to its workers; Springwood Avenue Park, which has become a community hub for recreation and activism; affordable housing units that are currently built out with three additional projects underway.
I was so passionate about my work on the Asbury Park City Council. That is why it was so difficult for me to step down on January 1, 2009 with six months left in my term. People will always try to make this story bigger than it is, but the truth is not that complicated: I resigned because my marriage was falling apart. I also learned that I was going to be a father, and had to adjust my life quickly in order to welcome my daughter Reese into the world. That was a decade ago. My ex-wife and I are on excellent terms and I'm a single dad raising my daughter in Spring Lake. While resigning from Asbury Park Town Council was one of the toughest professional decisions I've ever made, and it coincided with one of the most painful personal experiences I've ever been through (few divorces are easy), I have learned and grown since then and I love being a father.
As for my constituents in Asbury Park? I think it is fair to say that they missed me. After taking a few years to sort things out on the personal front, I moved back to Asbury Park. As I parked my truck and was taking the first box out to move into my place on Cookman Ave, someone stopped me on the sidewalk and asked, “Are you running (for Council)? We need you.”
I did run that year. I ran with a team of political outsiders from the westside of Asbury Park. Had our ticket been successful, we would have had the first majority-minority leadership team in the history of the City. We were the frontrunners. 10 days before the election a letter was dropped with the Prosecutor’s Office that alleged we were engaged in voter fraud. There was a months-long exhaustive investigation (of which I was never a target) that led to no charges and no arrests, but it did succeed in disenfranchising 364 mostly black voters from the westside of town. Had those ballots been opened and counted, I may have been the highest vote-getter in that race, but we will never know.
Hear me address voters at a Candidate Forum and answer the question "Can you work with people who disagree with you politically to get things done?"