Newcomers will try to take Singer’s seat

Shain, Harrison challenge veteran Lakewood official

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Two political newcomers are challenging Republican Robert W. Singer for the Lakewood Town-ship Committee seat he has held for 24 years.

Squaring off against Singer in the Nov. 2 election for the single three-year term are Yehuda Shain, 57, a tax assessor, who is running as an independent, and Democrat Amy Harrison, 45, a real estate lawyer.

Neither Harrison nor Shain has held public office before.

Singer, 56, was born in Manhattan. Married with four children, he has been a resident of Lakewood for 35 years. Singer describes himself as a self-made businessman.

In addition to serving on the committee, Singer is also a state senator from the 30th Legislative District.

Despite a busy schedule, Singer said he always has time to listen to the concerns of those he represents.

“I work locally, I’m around town on a regular basis and I’m very accessible,” Singer said. “I try to bring my knowledge from the state and my long-term knowledge of Lakewood to the committee.”

To win a seat on the committee, candidates will vie for an endorsement from the Vaad, a political interest group.

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community overwhelmingly vote for the candidate the Vaad endorses, making its endorsement key to electoral victory in any local political contest.

The Vaad has not stated when an endorsement will be made, and all three candidates discussed how they hoped to earn the group’s support.

Shain said that since the Vaad represents Lakewood taxpayers, his platform of opposing pay for play would only benefit them.

Pay for play is defined as the practice of awarding lucrative no-bid contracts to political donors.

“The governor did sign something into law (recently) on pay for play, but I don’t think it goes far enough,” Shain said. “The time has come, especially in Lakewood, to bring back in-house professional services — engineering and legal — rather than farming them out.”

Harrison, the sister-in-law of former mayor Marta Harrison, said she hopes her political platform will help her win the Vaad’s endorsement.

Singer said his door is always open to any group he represents, but that he has not met with the Vaad in several years of running for political office in Lakewood.

“People think you go in there [to meet with them] and sell your soul,” he said. “They have never said to me that unless I meet their agenda they would not give me their endorsement.”

Singer said the Vaad sought only to tell its voting bloc where candidates stood on the issues, which was no different than any other political interest group.

“It’s the same when we go before the senior communities who have government relations groups that ask us where we stand on the issues,” he said.

If given another three-year term on the committee, Singer said there are several issues he would address. One is control of expenses generated by the township’s professionals.

That is an issue Shain has supported in both word and action. For the past several years he has examined the tax assessor’s records “to see if they are on the up and up.” He said this past spring that he is running on a platform of lower taxes as well as government accountability.

All three candidates agree that alleviating traffic congestion in Lakewood is a priority.

Singer also said he would continue to address the lack of sufficient parking in downtown Lakewood.

In addition to promulgating solutions to traffic and parking problems, Singer is a proponent of MOM — the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex passenger rail service initiative. If approved, existing freight tracks would be used to bring back passenger rail service through the three counties, which would include a stop in Lakewood on the proposed line.

Shain said he, too, has supported the MOM initiative for years. He said dualization of Route 9 south into Toms River also would relieve traffic congestion, but that such a project would take years to complete and would not have as immediate an impact as would implementation of MOM.

Singer said that he supports a tree-saving ordinance, which neighboring municipalities have enacted and Lakewood has not. When asked why the committee has not acted on the issues he would like to address, he cited partisan foot-dragging.

“The Democrats keep talking about having committees examine the problems and I can’t get them to take action,” Singer said. “I don’t know what is holding things up.”

When asked why residents should give him another term in office if his re-election would not change Democratic control of the committee next year, Singer said that he serves an essential role.

“Because I’m there, I believe I hold them accountable for their actions,” he said. “You can make alliances on certain issues, but if I weren’t there a lot of these things wouldn’t happen. I’m an alternative to business as usual.”

Harrison said she hopes to get voters excited about government and encourage their participation in it.

“We need to work with all segments of the community and get everybody involved,” said Harrison, who moved to Lakewood two years ago. She is married and has two stepdaughters and a son who attends Lakewood public schools.

Harrison said safety issues are a priority for her. She said she would lobby for the expedited installation by the county of traffic lights and crosswalks at designated intersections around town. She also supports better lighting on County Line Road and other heavily populated areas that she said most needed them.

“I want to ensure that pedestrians and passengers are safe,” Harrison said.

She said she would like to lobby for a constitutional convention to address local property tax reform. When asked why state legislators could not address the issue of property tax reform during their regular session, she said it was her understanding that a constitutional convention was required.

Shain said he did not have a solution for property tax reform, but that he thought the current formula for funding public school education was unfair to the general public.

Harrison said she supports having a directly elected mayor. Seniors have said at committee meetings that they believed a directly elected mayor and a ward system of government, similar to the one approved by Dover Township voters two years ago, would increase their electoral influence.

Mayor Ray Coles has said a committee will be formed early next year comprising representatives of all communities in Lakewood to examine forms of government other than the current five-member Township Committee. Under the present form of government residents do not elect a mayor. Instead, in January, the five members of the governing body select one member to serve as mayor for the year.

As to the influence of the Orthodox Jewish community on local elections, both Coles and Singer have said that the number of seniors who are registered to vote outnumbers those in the Orthodox Jewish community, but that the latter consistently votes as a bloc. Seniors have been unable to galvanize their numbers to do the same.