Independent candidates ensure contested race

Kirchhof, Walsh will challenge Lucey in Howell


Staff Writer

Although Howell Coun-cilman Wayne Lucey ran uncontested in the June 7 Republican primary, and even though local Democrats did not put up a candidate, there will be a contested race for one Township Council seat in November.

Two residents have filed to run as independent candidates and will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Lucey was appointed in January by the all-Republican council to serve the unexpired term that belonged to Joseph M. DiBella before DiBella was elected mayor in November 2004. DiBella’s successful run for the mayor’s office left his council term with two years left to be filled.

Lucey was appointed to serve 2005, but now the final year of the term (2006) will be on the ballot in November.

Lucey, 46, is a home improvement contractor who has lived in Howell for 10 years.

Challenging Lucey for that one-year term are former Democratic Councilman Reinhard “Fritz” Kirchhof and local business owner Robert Walsh, who is also a member of the United Republican Club, the organization that submitted Lucey’s name for nomination.

Kirchhof, 54, who was a member of the council from 1999 to 2002, was one of four former elected municipal officials called to testify in recent hearings held by the governing body. He was the only former official who did testify at the hearings, which examined the municipal approval process surrounding the Colts Neck Crossing adult community.

The result of the hearings was the council’s reversal of a zoning change that paved the way for Colts Neck Crossing to be approved by the Planning Board, and the subsequent reversal of the board’s approval of the residential project on Route 33 at the site of the Flame motel.

Kirchhof has always disputed the allegations of the special commission and the commission’s finding that his and the rest of the Democratic majority council’s vote had been corrupted by campaign contributions.

That is especially so, he noted, since he was not present the night the previous council, which included sitting Councilwoman Cynthia Schomaker, voted to make the zoning change that had been requested by the developer of Colts Neck Crossing.

Kirchhof told the Tri-Town News he decided to run for the final year of DiBella’s term because he is not happy with “partisan politics” and their results. He said he had become “disenchanted with party politics” in 2002 when he made an unsuccessful re-election bid running as an independent candidate.

Kirchhof explained what he meant by the party politics label. He said he has been watching events that have been unfolding at town hall since he left office and said he was drawn back because he believes the Republican mayor and council members have been voting more along party lines and how their party wants them to vote rather than what is in the overall good of Howell and the people who live here.

“I always voted the issue, not the party. Decisions should be based on the presented facts and benefits to the residents and not for the benefit of the party,” he said.

Chief among the decisions that Kirchhof sees as not being in the best interests of residents is the proposed elimination of several municipal jobs, including the entire Youth and Family Services Department, which is a licensed treatment facility for substance abuse and associated mental health issues.

Lucey has voted in favor of eliminating the department along with all of the proposed cuts that were scheduled for a final vote at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Council members have said the cuts are needed to rein in municipal spending.

“I’m running now because I’m not happy with recent events, especially the laying off of employees and vital services,” Kirchhof said.

He said in a community that is “growing in leaps and bounds,” an entity like Youth and Family Services is a vital service.

While the council members touted the cuts as being necessary to stem an increase in municipal spending, Kirchhof said if curbing spending is really the issue, the mayor and council members should look to cut back on the fees being paid to township professionals.

“There have to be other ways. Explore all options and I’m sure you’ll find the money elsewhere,” he said.

Asked why voters should return him to office, Kirchhof said, referring to his last term in office, “Because I don’t consider myself a politician. I vote the issues, not party lines — my past history reflects that.”

Walsh, who will also seek to serve the final year of DiBella’s original council term, was not available for an interview by press time Tuesday.

The unexpired term is the only local race in Howell this year.