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By Charles Layton

Mary Beth Jahn told the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association on Saturday that she should be re-elected to a third term on the Township Committee because of her hard work for constituents.

“I am someone who is more dynamic, I go to more functions, I respond to more emails, more constituent problems,” she said.

Jahn: “I respond to more … constituent problems.”

The audience of approximately 50 Ocean Grovers seemed to agree. In comments from the floor, they responded with an outpouring of support, including specific examples of Jahn’s quick responses to their particular problems.

“I’ve never had a public official respond to me the way you do,” Susan Taylor said. “For one thing, it’s instantaneous.”

Ray DeFaria gave Jahn credit for the quick response by police following the theft of a treasured family heirloom, a wedding ring. He said Jahn took a personal, hands-on interest in the theft, and the ring was recovered.

Joan Cruz suggested that, although the Home Owners Association is a non-partisan group, individual members should write letters to local newspapers supporting Jahn.

Jahn is engaged in a tough fight in the June 5 Democratic primary. She is one of three candidates competing for two seats on the Township Committee — a race that has split the Neptune Democratic Party bitterly. (For background, go here and here and here.) The Neptune Democrats have not endorsed Jahn; the Monmouth County Democratic Party has endorsed her.

Saturday’s meeting had been billed as a “candidates’ forum,” but the other two candidates in the primary race, Dr. Michael Brantley and Nicholas Williams, declined to appear. The audience expressed some resentment that these candidates were unwilling to speak to their organization, although their refusals were somewhat understandable given the degree of Jahn’s support among the membership. Not a single person had a negative word to say against her.

Jahn declined several opportunities to criticize Brantley and Williams because they were not present and “it wouldn’t be fair.” Instead, she emphasized some of her own history as a committeewoman. She cited her opposition to condo development at the North End, her support for a strong police force (she has twice served as police commissioner) and her work as the Township Committee’s liaison to the Township’s finance department.

She said the reason she has taken the lead on the issue of derelict buildings in Ocean Grove is that Mayor Randy Bishop had been criticized by one particularly intractable owner, Marshall Koplitz, as having a conflict of interest because he lives in Ocean Grove and owns a bed and breakfast here.

Committeeman Eric Houghtaling. Photos by Mary Walton

Asked by people in the audience why she and Neptune party officials had parted ways, Jahn repeated her assertion that the split was mainly over her refusal to back James Manning Jr., a former Neptune mayor, for the position of business administrator. Many party leaders have sided with Manning, whom Jahn says she considers unqualified for the post.

Another member of the Township Committee, Eric Houghtaling,  spoke briefly in support of Jahn, calling her “a vital asset to the township.” Another Township Committee member, Kevin McMillan, is working for Jahn’s two opponents. Mayor Bishop, on the other hand, is backing Jahn. Neither Bishop nor McMillan were at Saturday’s meeting.

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By Charles Layton

The Neptune Township Committee voted Monday to hire Vito Gadaleta as an assistant to the Township’s business administrator, Philip Huhn, with the expectation that Gadaleta will step into Huhn’s job when Huhn retires at the end of the year.

The choice was extremely controversial within the Neptune Democratic Party, because James Manning, a three-time former Neptune mayor, had applied for the job with the backing of some powerful party leaders. Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn has said she refused to support the hiring of Manning because she did not think he was qualified. The current mayor, Randy Bishop of Ocean Grove, sided with Jahn in what became and remains a bitter intraparty dispute.

When the issue came to a vote at the Committee’s regular meeting on Monday night, three of the four present members voted to hire Gadaleta, with only Committeeman Eric Houghtaling voting no. Bishop announced that the fifth committeeman, Kevin McMillan, who was absent, also supported Gadaleta. Houghtaling declined to give a reason for his no vote. (All five members of the Committee are Democrats.)

Vito Gadaleta. Photo from Facebook

Gadaleta has served for the past four years as the borough administrator in Pompton Lakes, N.J. He retired from that job on January 1, apparently expecting that he would soon be going to work in Neptune.  Meanwhile, he continued to do part-time consulting for Pompton Lakes.

Previously, he had served as business administrator in Loch Arbour, and before that in Allenhurst.

Neptune is hiring him to the newly created part-time position of “assistant business administrator” at a salary of $60,000, with an opportunity to be promoted later to Huhn’s job. “This is a test drive to see how it works out,” Bishop said, adding that there is “no guarantee” of a promotion later on, only the chance to earn one.

Huhn is in his 14th year as business administrator and makes approximately $151,000 a year.

Ex-mayor Manning had sought the job. Photo by Mary Walton

Although Committeeman Michael Brantley voted in favor of hiring Gadaleta, in doing so he expressed concern about a lack of racial diversity in the Neptune Township government, especially within the police department, which he said had a history of “cronyism and preferential hiring.” He said there was a “glass ceiling” for minority promotions.

Brantley said he had questioned the top job candidates about “this flaw” and that he hoped to work with Gadaleta to correct the problem. Later in the meeting, Brantley moderated his remarks, saying that the problem was more “perceived” than real in recent years. “Neptune has moved quite a distance from that,” he said, and he hoped the new administrator would make it clear to the community that “things are not like they used to be.”

Gadaleta is to begin work on May 1.

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Mary Beth Jahn is the choice of the Monmouth County party

By Charles Layton

The Monmouth County Democratic Party officially endorsed Mary Beth Jahn for re-election to the Neptune Township Committee today, rejecting the efforts of Neptune party leaders to oust her from the ticket.

County chairman Victor Scudiery sent a letter to the County Board of Elections this afternoon listing the party’s chosen candidates to appear on the June 5 primary ballot. Those candidates for Neptune were Jahn and the other incumbent who is up for re-election, Dr. Michael Brantley.

However, the candidate who has challenged Jahn, Nicholas Williams, indicated he was not quitting. When asked to comment on Scudiery’s decision, he said: “I’m looking forward to running with Dr. Brantley as my running mate and I think that we will prevail.” He refused to say more.

Even though Williams won’t be listed on the party’s “line,” he can still run with his name appearing elsewhere on the ballot. Politicians point out, though, that it is an uphill battle for a candidate who is not listed among the party’s endorsed slate.

The issue of Jahn versus Williams has touched off a bitter fight among local Democrats. On March 24, a majority of the local party’s district leaders voted to replace Jahn with Williams, a former school board member. However, rather than accept that decision, Jahn chose to fight back, and Mayor Randy Bishop joined in her cause, openly opposing the party’s municipal chairman, James Mowczan, as well as some other prominent members of the Neptune party.

Nicholas Williams says he'll run anyway. Photos by Mary Walton

Jahn’s other colleagues on the Township Committee, all of whom are Democrats, took no public stand one way or the other in the dispute. But a grass-roots showing of support from Democrats and Independents, many of them from Ocean Grove, strengthened Jahn’s case.

“I’m very grateful for all of the residents of Neptune who stood up for me and allowed me to have another three years to serve them,” Jahn said after hearing of the county party’s decision in her favor. “I especially want to thank Randy Bishop for all his support. He’s always been my mentor and he really helped me keep it together.”

As for the party rift, she said, “We hope that we can come together as one Democratic Party in the future.”

For background, see our previous coverage: here and here.

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Mary Beth Jahn (left) speaks with Connie Ogden of Ocean Grove after the meeting. All photos by Mary Walton

By Charles Layton

A large contingent of Ocean Grovers turned up at the meeting of the Neptune Democratic Club on Tuesday night to show support for Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn.

Not only were they not allowed to speak in support of Jahn, they were told by the club’s president that they were not welcome.

Club President Linda Johnson opened the meeting by announcing that she would only allow a limited set of issues to be discussed. “If anyone is here for any other issue,” she said, “we do not deal with that issue, so if that is what you came for you can leave.” She went on to say that if anyone stepped out of line “there is a sergeant of arms and he will show you to the door.”

Johnson's message to Jahn supporters: "You can leave."

That was Johnson’s opening statement. Her closing statement was: “I think if you are not a dues-paying member and a Democrat you do not belong in this room.”

These remarks were entirely unprovoked. The crowd of Ocean Grovers, most of whom had never attended the club’s meetings before, could not have been more well-behaved throughout the evening. They politely applauded some of the speakers, who included members of the Township Committee.

The turnout, at the VFW post on Corlies Avenue, was much larger than is usual at meetings of the Democratic Club — something in the neighborhood of 70 people. Roughly half of that number were from Ocean Grove, and the great majority appeared to be Democratic voters.

“I was appalled,” said Joan Cruz of Ocean Grove. “I’m a lifelong Democrat. I really wanted to join this club and do some good here. I’ve never felt so unwelcome.”

After the meeting was adjourned, many others from Ocean Grove also remarked on the hostile reception. “Our voices were squashed,” Joy Norton said. Barbara Burns called the meeting “distinctly undemocratic.”

The issue that brought out these Ocean Grovers was the recent decision of the Neptune Democrats’ district leaders to replace Jahn with Nicholas Williams on the June 5 primary ballot.

Although a  majority of those party functionaries had voted on March 24 to endorse Williams rather than the incumbent Jahn, their decision could be overturned by the County Democratic Party and its chairman, Victor Scudiery. And in fact, Scudiery has already let it be known that he intends to do just that. The Neptune democratic organization has been gathering names on a petition and lobbying in other ways, hoping to change Scudiery’s mind, but at this point Jahn’s supporters seem confident that Jahn rather than Williams will end up as the party’s chosen candidate.

James Mowczan, the party's municipal chairman

James Mowczan, chairman of the Neptune party, said on Tuesday night that the issue will be decided for certain on Thursday. That, he said, is when Scudiery must turn in the official list of the party’s endorsed candidates to the County Clerk of Elections.

Joan Cruz said that she and her husband have just recently made Ocean Grove their primary residence and registered to vote here. She said that at the start of Tuesday night’s meeting she paid the $10 membership fee to join the Democratic Club, as many of the other newcomers did. But after the cold words she heard from the club’s president, she went to Mowczan after the meeting, withdrew her membership and got her $10 back.

“I intend to call the county Democratic Party tomorrow and complain,” she said.

The Neptune Democrats have never given any public reason for their decision to reject Jahn as their candidate. Jahn has said the problem is her refusal to go along with certain job appointments. In particular, she has said, Mowczan has pushed for the Township Committee to appoint former mayor James Manning to the position of township business administrator. Jahn has maintained that Manning is not qualified for that job.

Since it became known that the local Democrats were trying to oust Jahn from the Township Committee, Ocean Grovers have been especially vocal in supporting her. This is partly because Jahn is very well known in Ocean Grove but also because the intra-party dispute has hardly been publicized anywhere except in the Grove. Area media have pretty much ignored the story. However, that could change. A reporter from The Coaster was present at the Tuesday night meeting.

Nicholas Williams, who hopes to replace Jahn on the Township Committee

NOTE: For background on the Jahn-Williams dispute, go here. To read an editorial on the issue, go here.


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By Charles Layton

The man who is seeking to replace Mary Beth Jahn on the Neptune Township Committee was himself replaced Monday night. The Township Committee voted not to reappoint Nicholas Williams to his seat on the board of the Neptune Housing Authority.

It was an unmistakable signal that Committeewoman Jahn and Mayor Randy Bishop are prepared to fight back against those in the local Democratic Party who wish to remove Jahn.

Jahn has said the party’s municipal chairman, James Mowczan, is opposing her candidacy for reelection because of a dispute over an important job appointment. Jahn has refused to support the hiring of James Manning Jr., a former Neptune mayor, as the township’s next business administrator when Philip Huhn retires from that post at the end of this year. Manning, she says, is not qualified. However, Williams, who seeks to replace Jahn on the Township Committee, is thought to favor Manning’s appointment, although he has made no public statements to that effect. (An attempt to reach Williams for comment was unsuccessful.)

Nick Williams -- removed from the Housing Authority board.

It was a tense moment at Monday night’s meeting when the Committee came to consider whether to reappoint Williams to the housing board. Jahn moved to appoint Beverly Holland, a former Neptune Board of Education president, instead of Williams. Mayor Bishop asked if anyone wished to second that motion. When the other three committee members — Eric Houghtaling, Kevin McMillan and Dr. Michael Brantley — remained silent, Bishop said, “All right, then, I’ll second it.”

When the vote was taken, Bishop and Jahn voted for Holland’s appointment. The other three abstained. Gene Anthony, the Township’s attorney, then ruled that, according to the law, when members of a public body abstain not based on a vested interest, their abstentions are treated as in agreement with the majority of those voting. And so, Jahn’s motion passed. By abstaining, Houghtaling, McMillan and Brantley were able to finesse an uncomfortable situation, allowing Bishop and Jahn to have their way without themselves overtly defying other leaders of their party.

Houghtaling, McMillan and Brantley appeared to be trying to avoid taking sides in what has quickly, over the past three days, developed into an open war among Neptune democrats, with Bishop and Jahn on one side and Mowczan and Williams on the other.

After the vote, no more was said about the matter — until time came for public comments from the floor. At that point, Kennedy Buckley of Ocean Grove rose and delivered a speech denouncing the Neptune Democratic Party leadership for trying to pressure the Township Committee into hiring Manning. He also praised Jahn for standing up against that pressure. “It just stinks to high heaven,” he said. He appealed to other members of the Committee to follow Jahn’s example. His appeal was answered with a tense silence.

Much would seem to be riding on the outcome of this struggle over Jahn’s seat on the Committee. Here is some background:

Jahn and Brantley are both up for reelection this year. On Saturday morning, Neptune’s Democratic district leaders, in a meeting at Mom’s Kitchen, voted — apparently by a narrow margin — to recommend that Brantley, but not Jahn, be given special priority on the ballot in the party’s June 5 primary election. In place of Jahn, the district leaders voted to recommend that Williams be listed on the party’s “line” on the ballot.

However, the final decision about that lies with the County Democratic Party and its chairman, Victor Scudiery. If Scudiery decides in favor of Williams, Jahn’s chances of winning the primary will be diminished, because she would lose the more favorable ballot position as well as the campaign support of the party. However, if Scudiery rejects the Neptune party’s recommendation and sticks with Jahn, that would constitute a defeat for Mowczan, for Williams and probably also for Manning. (The Republicans are not considered to have much chance in the general election, no matter who the Democrats’ candidates turn out to be.)

In case Scudiery rules against her, Jahn was gathering signatures on a petition Tuesday to assure that she has a place on the primary ballot.

The outcome of this struggle could effect Ocean Grove in tangible ways. Although Ocean Grove is a Republican stronghold, Jahn has developed a following here because of her positions on some important local issues. These include the North End redevelopment and the problem of derelict buildings in Ocean Grove.

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For more information and background on the local party’s move against Jahn’s candidacy, go here.

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