BY CHRISTINE GRIMALDI
JAMESBURG – The sitting Borough Council president and a local newcomer, both Democrats, will face no challenge from Republicans in this fall’s election.
Joseph Jennings, 59, will share the ballot with Brian Grimes, 26, who purchased a home in Jamesburg this year.
Grimes is running for the seat currently held by Republican Christopher Maloney, who will leave office when his first term expires Dec. 31. Incumbent Jennings is seeking his third term.
Republicans including Maloney and local GOP club treasurer Adam Bushman were unsure why there were no candidates representing their party.
Maloney, who for the past three years has been the lone Republican on Jamesburg’s governing body, noted the difficulty of electing party members in a largely Democratic area. He added that it is challenging to find qualified candidates who are able to commit extensive time to the council.
Maloney encountered that problem himself. The 38-year-old, who is completing his first three-year council term, said that his job with Internet networking giant Cisco Systems changed after his election, requiring him to travel about 40 weeks out of the year.
“It just makes being able to give the commitment to the people of Jamesburg they deserve, and being able to keep the commitment to my job, too difficult,” said Maloney, who lives in Jamesburg with his wife, Alicia.
Maloney cited several accomplishments from his term of office.
“We have a lot more discussion on topics now than we had before I joined the council,” Maloney said. He attributed this to his dual status as the council’s lone Republican member and as a newer member who brings up questions from the community.
As senior manager in Cisco’s cable video group, Maloney applied his technological expertise to Jamesburg by chairing the council’s recently formed Technology Committee.
“We’ve started to move the borough forward in a technological sense,” he said, with a focus on computers and phone systems.
Mayor Anthony LaMantia said he would ask Maloney to remain on that committee even after his council term expires.
Maloney said he intends to stay involved in the borough through its Patriotic Committee and hopes to form a citizens’ cable committee, as the issue of expanding the cable television market to telephone providers moves through the state and national legislatures.
Grimes is poised to take Maloney’s seat. The Old Bridge native moved to the Beaver Brook Run townhouse complex last summer with his wife, Michelle. They are expecting their first child.
Grimes graduated from Rutgers University in 2002 with a degree in history and obtained his social studies teaching certification at Kean University. He has taught social studies at Freehold Township High School for two years.
“I always tell my students that in order for a democracy to work, people have to get involved in it,” Grimes said.
He always planned to enter politics himself, possibly at the state level someday.
“I’ve been talking to my family about it for years and I told my wife, ‘Let’s seriously buy a house, settle down, and then I’ll start getting involved in politics,’ ” he said.
He joined the Jamesburg Democratic Club in January, intending to wait a year before campaigning for elected office. At the February meeting, however, Grimes said he was asked to run for the opening council seat. He said the Democratic Committee subsequently interviewed and approved him.
Since that point, Grimes said he has attended every borough meeting and is familiarizing himself with Jamesburg’s problems and possible solutions.
“I feel that I had a really great crash course in understanding the politics of the town,” he said.
He said it helps that he grew up in neighboring Old Bridge.
“I’m familiar with the area, I’m familiar with the county, I’m familiar with Jamesburg, even though I haven’t lived here my whole life,” he said.
Grimes said he intends to address the issue of Jamesburg’s revitalization and growth in his campaign.
“We’re at a point here in Jamesburg where growth is kind of stagnant and property taxes keep going up because state aid keeps getting cut back,” he said. “There’s a movement that’s going on, a revitalization movement in town, to try and attract new businesses into town, but keeping the historical feel of the town at the same time.”
He said such growth is “not broad redevelopment where you tear down strips of homes and you rebuild completely like that.”
In this vein, “I would like to try and bring a community atmosphere to Jamesburg,” Grimes said. This atmosphere is present in Jamesburg, but suffering from what he views as “huge losses” with the closings of Johnathon’s Grille and DiBrizzi’s Pizza and Ice Cream. The owner of Johnathon’s, the unofficial headquarters for Jamesburg Democrats, sold the restaurant to Chase Manhattan Bank; extensive flooding destroyed DiBrizzi’s last summer.
Grimes said that a local paper listed Jamesburg “as the banking capitol of Central Jersey, I guess you would say, because there’s seven banks in town, two more possibly on the way.”
He would like to see more venues that encourage people to spend leisure time in Jamesburg.
“The residents really want a diversity of businesses, and I’m really just going to go out and sell Jamesburg the best that I can,” he said.
Bushman agreed that Jamesburg, as a primarily residential community, needs to have businesses and restaurants “that are going to reflect those sensibilities.”
Instead, there is a rumored possibility that a McDonald’s will replace DiBrizzi’s. Bushman could not confirm the fast-food restaurant intends to purchase the property, but said it has “been the buzz within the community.”
LaMantia said he knows the owners personally and believes they still retain the property. He said it is not yet under contract.
“There’s all kinds of rumors going around town,” he said of future plans for the property. He added that someone else told him they heard a Burger King would be built there. He does not support that type of use for that site, noting, though, that it would help with taxes.
“I don’t like fast-food restaurants anyway in a small municipality like this,” LaMantia said.
A McDonald’s would increase “transient traffic” through the borough and harm its aesthetic value, Bushman said.
“From a ratable point of view, it’s great for the town because it’s cheap, it’s easy, the corporation is going to go in and they’re going to be great taxpayers,” he said. “But in the long haul, I’m not really sure if that’s the direction we want to go in. I can’t imagine them throwing a McDonald’s in the center of Cranbury.”
Jennings said Grimes is enthusiastic and can serve as a “spokesperson” for his fellow Beaver Brook residents. No sitting council member lives in the complex.
“It gives them an opportunity to see you daily and if they have concerns, bring it to your attention,” Jennings said of living with constituents.
Jennings, 59, is a 10-year resident of Jamesburg. He has served two consecutive terms on the council and is in his sixth year of office.
He is a business representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 456. His wife, Deborah, works for a real estate attorney in Hamilton.
Jennings and his wife each have two children from previous marriages, as well as three granddaughters.
Jennings said he and Grimes support fiscal responsibility.
He said this has already been established by the sitting council. Measures like purchasing new police cars each year ensure that the borough is “not hit with a big bill at one time.”
He added that the council has previously worked well with the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Jennings’ motivation for a third-term run is progress, and specifically, Jamesburg’s revitalization.
“I think we’ve done a lot on the council to bring the town back, improve the quality of living there for the residents, and I enjoy working with the residents and trying to overcome some of the problems that they bring to our attention,” he said.
Jennings heads the Public Works and Holiday Events committees on the council and also serves as police commissioner. He cited public works, such as cleaning up downtown Jamesburg and improving sidewalk structure and ambiance in conjunction with the freeholders, as issues the council has successfully addressed during his tenure.
“I think we’ve added to the flavor of a small-town community,” Jennings said.
Bushman, 43, is a two-term former councilman who made unsuccessful bids for the council in 2004 and for county freeholder in 2003. He has previously served on the Jamesburg Zoning Board and chaired the local Chamber of Commerce.
“I ran in the last two or three elections locally, and it was just at a point where I thought I need to give it a rest,” he said. “I end up losing by maybe anywhere from 10 to 20 votes, but obviously it’s just not working the way it was going.”
Bushman said he would probably run for office in the future, and may campaign for a state Assembly seat “even if it means running as an independent at some point.”
“I think I have a lot of things to offer the 14th District in any case, and I think I have a lot still to offer as far as fresh ideas for even my local community,” Bushman said.