ROBBINSVILLE: Voters choose Fried, Calcagno, McGowan

Walter. Brown, Edwards easily defeated

By Melissa L. Gaffney, Staff Writer
ROBBINSVILLE — Mayor Dave Fried and the two Planning Board members he supported for Township Council won easy election over his challenger, Councilwoman Sonja Walter, and two political newcomers seeking two council seats in Tuesday’s nonpartisan election.
Mr. Fried won his second, four-year term with 1,267 votes to Ms. Walter’s 714 votes, according to unofficial figures, including absentee ballots, supplied Tuesday night by Township Clerk Michele Auletta.
Former Committeeman and Mayor Vince Calcagno and fellow Planning Board member Sheree McGowan soundly defeated Miguel Edwards and Lance Brown, who ran with Ms. Walter. Mr. Calcagno was the top vote-getter, earning 1,215 unofficial votes and Ms. McGowan followed with 1,162 ballots. Messrs. Brown and Edwards received 758 and 701 votes, respectively, according to unofficial results.
It could be argued that spending played a big role in the mayoral election as Mr. Fried’s spending dwarfed that of his opponent. According to reports filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, he raised about $107,684 and spent $88,850. But the mayor said those figures represent a five-year period that included his first mayoral campaign, from which he said he had transferred about $30,000.
Despite that approximate $59,000 in spending, Mayor Fried estimated last week that he had spent only $20,000 during this year’s campaign. Regardless, his figures compare to Ms. Walter raising only $3,896 this year while spending about $3,741, according to her last ELEC report.
Mayor Fried, 41, said Tuesday night that he was humbled the community responded to what he deemed a positive campaign and said their decision shows they think the town is moving in the right direction.
“The town has come a long way in these last four years,” he said.
For starters, voters in 2005 changed the township’s form of government to a mayor-council format, with Mr. Fried as their first elected mayor.
This year, Mr. Calcagno and Ms. McGowan ran on what they called the Proven Community Service slate.
Mr. Calcagno, 47, served as a member of the Township Committee for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, before the form of government changed.
“It’s been a few years since I was on the Township Committee (now council),” he said Tuesday night. “I’m ready to get started and get working again. I have a sense of what the job is about. It’s (the governing body) different now, but it’s still about addressing the same problems the town has.”
Ms. McGowan, 46, also is no stranger to public service. She has been on the Planning Board for six years and has chaired the board for two years. She said Tuesday night that her experience has helped prepare her for her new political role.
“It’s understanding how government works, having to listen to the public both positively and when they don’t necessarily like what you’re doing,” she said. “We (the slate) emphasize the fact that we’re not newcomers, that we’ve been involved for years and years.”
Ms. Walter said she felt her slate ran a good campaign, and the outcome showed that 40 percent of the voting populace is not happy with the current administration.
“I think it’s something they (the new administration) better sit up and take notice of,” she said.
While Ms. Walter’s term as councilwoman ends June 30, she said she would not have run for council again, even if she had not run for mayor.
“That was not going to be a choice of mine,” she explained. “I don’t think the environment is productive. I have no real desire to be a part of that (the council).”
Ms. Walter said she ran for mayor because there were many residents whose voices were not being heard.
During the campaign, her slate called for a closer examination of the township government’s ethics.
Specifically, Ms. Walter had called for Mayor Fried to return campaign donations from firms doing business with the township, including the Sharbell development firm. The mayor had responded by pointing out that he does not vote on development applications. He also said the developers who had contributed to his campaign had not appeared before township boards for some time, but township records showed they had done so as recently as January.
Mr. Edwards, a member of the Affordable Housing Committee, said Tuesday night that he would continue his efforts on behalf of the community and fight for what he believes in.
“I don’t need to be an elected official to do that,” he said.
Mr. Brown said he did not think his slate’s message came across clearly to residents, as far as what is going on in the township.
“I wish I could have somehow made some of the issues clearer,” he said, referring to his slate’s call for transparency in government.
“I hope my opponents live up to the promises which they made the township residents and always keep the interest of the township residents in their minds first,” he added.. “I’m going to remain informed and try to keep other people informed, that’s for sure.”
Ms. Walter said she would still attend township meetings, listen and ask questions, just as she has been doing.
“I called for that, an examination of how the town is being run, and I still say the same thing today,” she said.
Mayor Fried said there is a lot of work to do, but that the township has already made great progress. He cited the dissolution of the Municipal Utilities Authority and putting the Fire Department under township control, saving more than $1 million a year.
The mayor said he and the Township Council would continue to focus on the economic development of Route 130 and finish the Town Center project.
“Clearly we have to fix some of the traffic problems in Town Center,” he added.
Additionally, the newly elected council members said they have some goals of their own, which include running an efficient government and looking for ways to cut township costs.
“That’s clearly what the residents want to see,” Mr. Calcagno said.
Ms. McGowan added she would like to see the township continue to increase its tax base and preserve any large open space parcels.
All three were gratified with their victory.
“I’m very, very humbled to have the privilege to serve again,” Mayor Fried said. “The election is a sort of report card of how residents think you’re doing. My grades are in, and I think I did well.”