Menna and Thompson retain Red Bank council seats

Staff Writer

By john burton

The McKenna team remains intact. After last year’s loss to Republican Jen Beck, the Democratic Party kept its 4-1 majority on the Borough Council as incumbents Florence "Betti" Thompson and Pasquale "Pat" Menna defeated Republican challengers and political newcomers Gene Goellner and Dick Bennett.

In the final count Menna received 2,700 votes and Thompson received 2,528.

Goellner got 1,453 and his running mate, Bennett, in the last tally got 1,558.

The borough has a total of 6,537 registered voters, of which 4,188 cast votes.

"These are the numbers," Menna said. "They speak for themselves."

Menna and Thompson had been running a campaign highlighting their 12 and 10 years, respectively, on the Borough Council and their part in what some have labeled a "renaissance" in the borough.

As part of what has been called "McKenna’s Team," the Democrats have pointed to the growth of the bustling downtown business district, the construction of a new park and improvements of existing parks, as well as helping secure a $2 million Neighborhood Preservation Grant.

"This win says people believe in what we’re doing in our responsible type of government," Thompson said. "Experience shows."

"This is very strong support for the McKenna Team," she said.

But Menna also stressed his and Thompson’s individuality.

"They (the Republicans) tried to make that an issue. They tried to say that Eddie (McKenna) sets the tone," Menna said.

"Betti and I are individuals, and we have individual agendas that sometimes come to fruition and sometimes don’t," he said.

Menna criticized the Republi-cans for some of their criticism of the incumbents.

In their campaign, Goellner and Bennett had said the current administration was more interested in the downtown business district than in helping homeowners and were too beholden to special interests who want to develop large projects. They also accused the Democrats of arrogance of power, stemming from their 10-year reign, and with walking in lockstep with the mayor and dancing to his tune.

"You can’t pit the east side against the west side and the downtown against the rest of the town," he said.

McKenna said he saw Thompson and Menna’s victory as an affirmation of the Democrats’ work over the last decade.

"This was a very important win after last year," McKenna said.

Last year Democratic incumbent John T. Illmensee lost to Republican Jennifer Beck, the only Republican on the council and the first to win a seat in almost a decade.

"This [year’s victory] was a clear statement," McKenna said.

"This was a very clear rejection of smear tactics," he said, referring to a number of fliers that had been circulating around town leveling personal attacks against Menna and McKenna.

"In the end it got a little nasty," Bennett said, referring not so much to the fliers but to some of the letters that appeared in the local press criticizing the Republicans for not condemning the fliers more forcibly.

Bennett stressed that he, Goellner and the local Republican Party were in no way involved in the attack fliers.

"We didn’t think it was an issue at all," he said. "If you condemn it, you are giving it credibility.

"We didn’t open the door on that," he said.

Before 9 p.m. Goellner conceded defeat and said he was going home to get some sleep so he could go to work the next day.

"It was an old-fashioned whuppin’," Goellner acknowledged.

Goellner was somewhat sanguine and philosophical about his loss. But he also said he was energized by the process and hoped to continue his involvement with local politics.

"It was fun," he said. "I’ll still be around."

For Bennett, this was a one-shot deal at politics. He said he has no intention of going through it again. But in the end he was conciliatory.

"I want to congratulate Pat and Betti and hope they will do their best for Red Bank," he said.

Bennett said he knew all along that it would be an uphill fight running against two incumbents, especially considering his and Goellner’s political inexperience.

"We tried to get our message out and I’m not ashamed of what we’ve done," Bennett said. "It’s our first time in politics, and we didn’t know what we were doing."