LAWRENCE: Did Ramos violate ‘fair campaign’ pledge?

One day after the Democratic and Republican candidates for Township Council signed a “fair campaign” pledge at the request of the Lawrence chapter of the League of Women Voters, a Republican Part

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   One day after the Democratic and Republican candidates for Township Council signed a “fair campaign” pledge at the request of the Lawrence chapter of the League of Women Voters, a Republican Party candidate appears to have violated the “spirit” of that pledge.
   Township Council members Stephen Brame and Jim Kownacki, who are running for re-election on the Democratic Party ticket, and Republican Party candidates Glenn Collins and Max Ramos signed the fair campaign pledge July 16.
   The pledge states that candidates “will not engage in or permit defamatory attacks upon the character of my opponents” and that they will not allow campaign materials or advertisements that “misrepresents, distorts or otherwise falsifies the facts regarding my opponents.”
   But the day after the four candidates signed the pledge, a letter to the editor appeared in The Times of Trenton that attempted to tie Mr. Brame and Mr. Kownacki to former Democratic Township Council member Mark Holmes. He has been charged with theft by deception for allegedly stealing more than $75,000 in federal funds while he worked as the executive director of the Asbury Park Housing Authority from November 2008 to June 2011.
   Mr. Holmes, who served on Township Council from 1998 to 2008, was elected as a Republican in 1997 and 2001. He switched to the Democratic Party in 2002, and was elected to a third term on Township Council as a Democrat in 2005. That term would have expired in 2009, but he resigned for personal and professional reasons.
   According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Mr. Holmes allegedly drew down $75,721 from a $99,897 grant awarded to the housing authority for job training. He allegedly transferred the money to accounts that he controlled, and used a debit card and a credit card to make unauthorized purchases while on business trips. He also used the debit card to pay for unauthorized meals in Asbury Park.
   In the July 17 letter, Mr. Ramos wrote that “Corruption is possibly now inside our own Town Hall and residents should demand answers. Was (Mr. Holmes’) illegal activity limited to Asbury Park? What deals might he have made while on council for 11 years, including two stints as mayor.”
   ”As residents have been pleading for more transparency, accountability and lower taxes, we have been assured by council that it’s doing everything it can to keep taxes low. This is pure rubbish, as one of their former colleagues has been caught stealing,” Mr. Ramos wrote.
   The Lawrence chapter of the League of Women voters took issue with Mr. Ramos’ letter.
   Sue Varga, president of the non-partisan organization, said in an email that “it does appear that Mr. Ramos’ July 17 campaign letter to the Trenton Times, with its emphasis on recent charges against a former member of our Town Council, violated the spirit of that pledge.”
   ”We do not condone ‘guilt by association,’ particularly since our former mayor and councilman has not yet had his due process,” Ms. Varga wrote. “Going forward, we urge all candidates and parties involved in the November election in Lawrence Township to respect the terms of the Fairness Pledge.”
   Mr. Kownacki, the Democratic incumbent on Township Council, objected to attempts to link Mr. Holmes to himself and Mr. Brame.
   Mr. Ramos “associated the recent unfortunate news article, ‘Ex-Lawrence mayor linked to $75,000 theft in Monmouth,’ about former Lawrence Mayor and Councilman Mark Holmes with the current (all-Democrat) council,” Mr. Kownacki wrote in an email.
   ”What Mark Holmes did in Monmouth has nothing to do with the current Township Council members,” Mr. Kownacki wrote.