Out with the old, in with the new – and not-so-new

GREG BEAN

There were some complete surprises in last week’s general election around here, and it wasn’t just the incredibly low turnout.

First, Freehold Borough’s Democratic Mayor, Michael Wilson, won another fouryear term. At this point, he’s been mayor since May 1985, but everyone expected him to be crushed this year by his upstart GOP opponent … some sacrificial lamb named Unopposed.

Same thing happened in Freehold Township, where longtime Republican Committeewoman Dorothy Avallone, who has been on the Township Committee since 1984, was running against the same challenger, this time posing as a Democrat.

One thing is pretty certain in those communities. If challengers to entrenched incumbents ever want to move the ball down the field, they’re going to have to find a candidate other than that loser Unopposed, who keeps getting the dog slobber knocked out of him (or her) on Election Day.

There were a number of other fairly interesting developments as the results were tallied last Tuesday night.

In the 12th Legislative District race for Assembly, Declan O’Scanlon, who lost the last time he ran by a gnat’s whisker, finally got his wish. As a matter of fact, he was the top vote-getter, meaning that he will send incumbent Democrat Michael Panter packing come January (dare you to say Panter packing five times fast).

Panter has been a pretty good lawmaker, in my opinion, but I truly look forward to having O’Scanlon in the Assembly. The guy is colorful and will make good copy. At one point, I seem to remember he promised to stand up on his desk down there in Trenton if he needed to make a point. We’ll be watching to see if he lives up to his own hype. If he stands up on his desk, or takes off his shoe and starts banging it on the table, I hope someone gets a picture.

In the 12th Legislative District race for Senate, Republican challenger and current Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck trounced incumbent Democrat Ellen Karcher, despite the fact that Karcher outspent Beck in the run-up to the race by around $1.7 million, about six-to-one.

The race had been nasty, with Beck hammering Karcher for an “agricultural” tax break the incumbent receives on some property she owns, and from which she sells the occasional Christmas tree that qualifies her for the lower tab.

I guess time will tell whether voters made a good decision in that race. If you worked at it, you could have learned that Beck has some decent ideas for legislation and a strong platform, but whether she’ll make any headway in Trenton is up in the air. As a newbie assemblywoman in the Republican minority, Beck got no laws or initiatives passed in her debut term, and it’s uncertain whether she’ll do much better as a newbie Senator in the Republican minority.

That’s not the worst thing that could happen, I suppose. An ineffective politician is better than a corrupt one, and we’ve had a few of those. But it might not be the best, either, considering that the state is facing so many serious challenges.

On the positive side, now Karcher can go home and start selling Christmas trees in earnest. Just in time for the holidays, too!

If some of the Monmouth County races taught future candidates and incumbents anything, it’s this. As an elected representative, you’re expected to do the right thing. And when you do the right thing, you might get away with bragging about it for a while, but you can’t make a career of it.

I think that because Ellen Karcher dined out on her role in a big corruption investigation so often (she wore a wire for the FBI), the story might have gotten a little old. Around Trenton, she was reportedly known by some wags as Saint Ellen for her continued self-promotion as a “corruption fighter,” and local voters might have been fed up as well. It’s like Rudy Giuliani and his continued self-congratulation for the way he claims to have behaved after 9/11. That’s all well and good, but we ask: what have you done for us lately?

Marlboro Mayor Robert Kleinberg, who had more baggage than a Pullman porter, harped on his role as a corruption fighter more often than Karcher did, and with less reason to do so. That wasn’t the only reason Democratic challenger Jon Hornik beat him like a rented mule, but I think it was a factor. It was downright tiresome.

Frankly, I’m going to miss Kleinberg because he was an interesting mayor in a weird sort of way. As a newspaperman, you’d always rather have someone interesting than someone bland. Not that Hornik is bland, but he’s an unknown quantity at this point. Maybe he’ll moon someone at a council meeting and spice things up. We can always hope.

Unlike Monmouth County, where there was so much going on, there weren’t that many surprises in Middlesex County.

Republican state Senate candidate Bill Baroni absolutely crushed Democratic challenger Seema Singh. Jeez, who could have predicted that?

As expected, there was a Democratic sweep of the four open seats on the Edison Township Council. In that community, Democratic Mayor Jun Choi has been playing games with the new budget, keeping it away from the lame-duck council so they won’t have a chance to monkey around with it before the new guys take over in January. The lame ducks have complained to the state Department of Community Affairs and the attorney general, but I doubt anything will come of it.

All Choi has to do is hold out for a couple of months, and then the new Democratic council will be sworn in to rubber-stamp anything he wants.

Also in that county, 11 incumbent mayors were re-elected to their positions and the only incumbent who got the boot was South River Mayor Robert Szegeti, who lost to Republican challenger and current Councilman Raymond Eppinger by about a hundred votes. There are people who say Szegeti deserved to lose that race, and he might have. What I do know for certain is that being the only incumbent mayor in the whole county to lose your re-election bid has got to sting a bit.

When Eppinger takes over, South River will have a one-party government – a Republican mayor and five Republican council members. Personally, I think that’s a recipe for disaster, but the voters have spoken. At least a few of them have.

Is this a great country, or what?

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.