Five Republicans seeking spots on November ballot

BY JOYCE BLAY Staff Writer

Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — Five Republicans are running in the June 7 primary as they seek a nomination to run for seats on the Township Committee in the November general election.

The Republican candidates are Yehuda Shain and the teams of William Cohen and Andrew Howard, and Sean D. Gertner and Steven Langert.

Gertner and Langert have received the endorsement of local and county Republican clubs. They said they are hopeful that the party’s endorsement will help them win the primary.

Gertner, 39, is a fourth generation resident of Lakewood and the grandson of former mayor Michael Gertner. He is an attorney in private practice. He is the municipal attorney for Lakehurst.

Gertner is the chairman of the Lakewood Economic Action program, which oversees the local Head Start program.

Although he has never run for or held elected office, Gertner said he is confident that his education and family’s political background would be an asset as a committeeman.

“With my planning background, I can address quality of life issues in town,” he said.

He also said his training would help in developing a strategy to bring more retailers to Lakewood.

“Because there’s no vision, it’s difficult to attract retailers to Lakewood,” the candidate said. “Instead, businesses [are locating] to neighboring municipalities.”

Gertner said Lakewood officials need to re-examine the town’s master plan in order to better assess retail and residential needs.

“It’s imperative that the township’s leaders have a balance of residential and commercial tax revenue,” said Gertner.

Langert, Gertner’s running mate, supports a platform of fiscally responsible management.

“I am running on a campaign of reduced government spending at town hall,” he said. “Spending has gone up every year since Democrats took control of the committee. The only reason we didn’t have tax increases before [last year] was due to all the construction in town, which increases the tax base.”

Langert, 38, has lived in Lakewood since 1981. He is the executive director of a mental health facility in Pennsauken.

Langert ran for a seat on the Township Committee in 1999, but was not successful. This is his second campaign for public office.

“Sean and I were screened and chosen by the official Republican Party of Lakewood because I would like to believe we represent the ideas and values of that organization,” he said.

Despite the party’s endorsement of Gertner and Langert, Rabbi Yehuda Shain believes he is the candidate who will win one of the two seats available on the committee this year. Shain ran unsuccessfully for committee last year.

“Lincoln failed 11 times until he was elected as president,” said Shain. “I plan to get elected before that many times.”

Shain, 59, is employed as a real estate broker, a certified public accountant and as an international consultant to the kosher food industry.

Shain has never held public office, but is convinced he could manage taxpayer funds more responsibly than present municipal officials.

“I could lower the municipal tax rate over the three-year period by 12 percent,” he said. “I would call in an outside independent auditor.”

Shain called for a return to in-house professional services during his run for committee last year.

“A township that’s running with as large a surplus as Lakewood is always a very inefficient township,” he said. “There’s a tendency to squander money when more than is needed is available.”

Shain also stressed the need for citizen participation in all internal affairs investigations of police actions.

“You can’t expect the fox to guard the chicken house,” he said. “If internal affairs is run properly and every officer knows he’s going to be responsible to somebody, he will be more careful to follow the letter of the law instead of his own discretion.”

Shain is also campaigning on a platform of traffic safety. He is calling for an adherence to state Department of Transportation regulated road sign sizes, replacement of all street light outages, and conversion of road corridors from 5th Street to 9th Street and from Forest Avenue to Lakewood Avenue to one-way streets. Both stretches of road are in the vicinity of Georgian Court University and Beth Medrash Govoha. Shain said the change would ensure the safety of pedestrians and help to alleviate congestion.

Rounding out the field of five Republican candidates is the team of Andrew Howard and William E. Cohen.

Cohen, 37, manages a Sub Station sandwich shop which is located at a local Exxon service station.

“Since I was married with kids, I decided to work full time,” he said. “[However,] I was involved in almost every Republican campaign for committee in the last 10 years.”

Cohen said he is currently on a leave of absence as vice president of the Lakewood Republican Club. However, he said that if he is elected to the committee he would serve everyone’s interests in town.

A universal concern in Lakewood would be traffic congestion, said Cohen. In order to address the issue, Cohen said he would support the hiring of a consultant to examine the issue and come up with a viable alternative, particularly in the downtown area.

Cohen would also support the use of public land for projects that would realize profits to the township. As an example, he said that he would not have chosen to build a new public works building at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and Cedar Bridge Road. Cohen said the site was originally cleared to build a soccer field, but neither that project nor the public works facility now planned there would generate the financial return the township could have earned.

“Ask any real estate broker and he will tell you that the location of the land near FirstEnergy Park is prime commercial real estate,” the candidate said.

Cohen was equally critical of what he called Mayor Charles Cunliffe’s belated stand on quality of life issues, which he said was long overdue.

“Charlie Cunliffe has been on the committee for nine years and all of a sudden he’s woken up to the fact that quality of life issues are important,” said Cohen. “He put together a quality of life task force” in the amended 2005 municipal budget. “It should have been included in the budget from day one every year.”

Cohen also took aim at Township Attorney Steven Secare, whom he believes to be generating excessive legal bills at taxpayer expense.

According to information provided by the township, Secare was appointed on Jan. 1, 1998 and is currently paid $160 per hour. His firm billed the township for $372,427 in legal services for 2004 and $95,623 as of April 19 for 2005.

Cohen partially based his belief on previous reports of municipal litigation that he contends could have been avoided. In particular, Cohen cited an article that appeared in the May 4 Tri-Town News, for which Secare was interviewed regarding his role in examining the contract township officials signed with the Federal Aviation Administration to secure grants to purchase the Lakewood Airport a decade ago.

Secare and Deputy Mayor Meir Lichtenstein are currently examining the possibility of using the airport land for a different purpose.

Responding to the possibility of a federal lawsuit being filed against Lakewood, Secare said, “Who cares if the FAA [sues us]? Land in Lakewood is at a premium.”

According to Cohen, Secare’s comment was arrogant and unprofessional.

“He represents taxpayers as well as the township and he should be providing responsible counsel,” the candidate said.

Howard, 35, works for the Lakewood Police Department as a school crossing guard. He and his wife own a marketing company which promotes events and provides celebrity impersonators.

He is also an aspiring politician who ran unsuccessfully for committee two years ago. It was at that time that Howard met Cohen, who was working as the campaign manager for current Committeeman Menashe Miller. As a result, both men decided to team up and seek the 2005 Republican nominations.

“We want to revitalize Lakewood by addressing quality of life issues in town such as traffic congestion and high taxes,” Howard said.

He said he supports the return of passenger rail service to Lakewood, which would ease traffic congestion.

As to municipal spending, “We would go over the budget line by line in order to save money,” said Howard. “We feel there’s money wasted in certain areas such as salaries. We would transfer those areas of funding to quality of life issues.”

Howard cited the larger than usual number of candidates running in the primary as an example of increased interest by residents seeking improvement of the town’s quality of life.

“No other election in the last five years has generated this much interest by people who want to make a change in Lakewood,” he said. “They want a better quality of life.”