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By Charles Layton

By this coming Monday — if not sooner — the Democratic Party will probably have made up its mind whether to endorse incumbent Mary Beth Jahn or her challenger, Nicholas Williams, for Neptune Township Committee.

Whichever of those two gets the party’s blessing will have a significant advantage in the June 5 primary, which will decide the party’s candidates in the general election next fall.

Two members of the Township Committee are up for re-election this year: Jahn and Dr. Michael Brantley. Normally, the Neptune Township Democratic Party would have backed those two incumbents, but at its March 24 meeting the party’s district leaders chose to replace Jahn with Williams. That action has caused an acrimonious split within the party, with Jahn refusing to step aside and Mayor Randy Bishop supporting her.

The county party and its chairman, Victor Scudiery, get to make the final call, either reinstating Jahn as the party’s choice or following the endorsement of the Neptune party.

But whatever Scudiery decides, the remaining contender, be it Williams or Jahn, can still appear on the primary ballot, but in a far less favorable position.

In an email on Wednesday to some of her supporters, Jahn said, “I will not know until early next week as to whether the Monmouth County Democrats will choose to endorse me or the Neptune Democrats’ choice, but either way, I will be running in both the primary and general elections.”

Jahn also told The Coaster: “I think the public and citizens of Neptune should decide at the polls who they want to represent them rather than it being brokered by a small handful of people at a meeting.”

Williams has not made any public statements about the controversy.

Any candidate who seeks to be on the ballot must submit a petition signed by at least 18 voters who are registered either as Democrats or independents.  Those petitions have already been submitted to the office of Municipal Clerk Richard Cuttrell, and if one were to judge by the petitions alone, Jahn would seem to have an edge. According to Cuttrell, her petition contains 68 valid signatures. Williams and Brantley filed a joint petition with only 23 signatures. However, Scudiery is not obliged to consider the size of the candidates’ petitions in making his choice.

The backing of the party is important because voters in primary elections tend to be party stalwarts, and many vote the straight party “line.” This is a formidable advantage for those who get listed on the line. Also, a candidate not listed on the party’s line doesn’t get party financial help.

Ocean Grove is one of the bases of Jahn’s support. At least half the names on her petition were the names of Ocean Grovers. Her popularity here is due in part to positions she has taken on controversial Ocean Grove issues. For instance, she took a more determined stand than any other Neptune politician against high-density condo development at the North End. She has also been active in efforts to clean up derelict buildings in the Grove.

Scudiery’s decision is expected to be announced on or around next Monday. Whatever he decides, it seems likely that the power struggle within the Neptune party will not soon end. The party’s current municipal chairman, James Mowczan, is said to be on the side of Williams in this dispute, while Mayor Bishop is in Jahn’s camp. Feelings are running very high.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have had a much easier time choosing their candidates. They will be Donald Beekman and Kevin Sheehan.

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For background on the Jahn-Williams controversy, go here.

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65 Abbott. Photo by Charles Layton

1. Neptune Township has issued another stop-work order on the controversial new house at 65 Abbott Avenue. This is the house where the height of the foundation and front porch were found to have substantially exceeded what the Zoning Department and the HPC had authorized. That violation was discovered after the house had already been framed, roofed and sheathed, presenting the builder, Sawbucks Contracting, with a serious dilemma. On March 6 the Township ordered all work stopped. Sawbucks then obtained a permit to lower the house. In the interim, they also received permission to install windows and wrap the house in Tyvek to protect it from the weather. However, according to Township officials, they also proceeded with construction on the second-floor porch. Township Construction Official Bill Doolittle inspected the site this week, discovered that unauthorized work and ordered it halted. For previous articles on this subject, go here and here.

2. Marshall Koplitz remains in default of a Municipal Court consent order to rehab his nuisance property at 23 Seaview Avenue, also known as the Park View Inn. However, the Township is giving him another 30 days to come into compliance. Under the terms of a July 28 court order, Koplitz agreed to a rehab schedule, under which he was supposed to have submitted complete architectural plans by now as well as approvals from the Zoning Department and the HPC. Township Attorney Gene Anthony said this week that Koplitz’ lawyer, Michelle Lebovitz Lamar, had asked for the extra 30 days because the partners in Koplitz’ architectural firm had split up. Anthony said he would give Koplitz the extra time rather than hauling him back into court because he thought Koplitz had “a legitimate excuse.” More to the point, perhaps, he said he thought Municipal Court Judge Robin Wernik would consider it a legitimate excuse. For background on all of this, go here.

3. Since the Mary Beth Jahn/Nick Williams controversy erupted this past week, commenters on this website have been seeking to better understand the arcane world of Neptune party politics. In an effort to help, Blogfinger has obtained the names of the two parties’ district leaders from the Municipal Clerk’s office. All of Neptune is divided into 20 voting districts, three of which are in Ocean Grove, and the party leaders in those three OG districts, according to the Clerk’s office, are:

– District 1: Repubs Matthew and Elizabeth Gannon; Dems Randy Bishop and (vacant)
– District 2: Repubs Ed Wyzykowski and Eileen Kean; Dems Paul Ristow and Carol Bernard
– District 3: Repubs Denis McCarthy and Grace Ann Shotwell; Dems Jeffrey and Caitlin Wood-Yesline

Each of the 20 districts is entitled to have two representatives for each party. However, not all those positions are filled. The Republicans have none at all in some districts, while the Democrats have only one in several districts, including District 1 in Ocean Grove. These vacancies make the system even more exclusive, as does the fact that in many cases the party’s two district leaders are husband and wife.

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By Charles Layton

District leaders of the Neptune Township Democratic Party voted Saturday not to back incumbent Mary Beth Jahn for reelection to the Township Committee.

The party chose instead to go with Nick Williams, a former school board member and the current chairman of the Neptune Housing Authority.

The action came at a meeting of the local party’s 35 district leaders at Mom’s Kitchen. However, the vote does not mean Jahn won’t be on this spring’s primary ballot; it is a recommendation to the County Democratic Party and its chairman, Victor Scudiery, who will ultimately decide who get’s the “line” — i.e., the party’s official blessing — in a primary race.

In addition to Williams, the local party voted to recommend incumbent Dr. Michael Brantley. The seats of both Brantley and Jahn are up for grabs this year. Whichever two Democratic contenders end up on the general election ballot this fall are considered likely to win, given the Republicans’ relatively weak position in Neptune. The vote by the Democrats’ district leaders was evidently quite close. One source told us that Brantley came in only one vote ahead of Jahn. (The party’s municipal chairman, James Mowczan, told us the vote tally was not made public, and that he didn’t know how close it was.)

When contacted by Blogfinger on Saturday, Jahn did not wish to comment, except to say, “My interests always lie with what’s best for Neptune.” Her colleague on the Township Committee, Mayor Randy Bishop, also declined to comment. Bishop nominated Jahn and spoke on her behalf at Saturday’s meeting.

What happens next is complicated. In order for Jahn to get on the Democratic primary ballot, she must submit a petition with at least 18 signatures. County chairman Scudiery does not decide which of the two contenders, Jahn or Williams, goes on the primary ballot — they both do — but Scudiery does decide which of them gets the endorsement of the party establishment. This is considered quite important, as it determines which candidate gets the more favored ballot position.

The New Jersey primary elections are scheduled for June 5. Only persons registered with a given party may vote in that party’s primary.

UPDATE, Sunday, March 25: In response to speculation on this website as to the reason for Saturday’s action, Jahn wrote that it was prompted by “my refusal to hire an unqualified former Township Committee member” to replace Neptune Business Administrator Phil Huhn, who plans to retire later this year. That former Committee member is James Manning Jr., who has expressed interest in the job. It had been announced that the Township Committee would hold a special meeting last Tuesday to interview candidates, including Manning. However, that meeting was suddenly cancelled without public explanation. To read about Manning and the job position, go here. To read Jahn’s complete statement on that subject, see the comments string to this article.

Meanwhile, in an interview on Sunday, the Neptune Democrats’ municipal chairman, James Mowczan, said he felt sure the leadership of Monmouth County Democrats would not go against the wishes of the Township’s party leaders. “It’s pretty much a done deal that they [Nick Williams and Michael Brantley] will get the party line,” he said. In the years Vic Scudiery has been the county leader, Mowczan said, “he’s never gone against the recommendation of the locals.”

If Mowczan is correct, the June 5 primary ballot would list Williams and Brantley as the endorsed representatives of the Democratic Party. Any other candidate (which is to say, Jahn) would be listed lower on the ballot, a significant disadvantage, he said.

Asked about Jahn’s statement that the local party turned against her over the question of whether James Manning would be the Township’s next business administrator, Mowczan said he hadn’t heard anything about that. “I don’t think it was anything against Mary Beth as much as it was for Nick Williams,” he said.

He said it was “not common” for local party leaders to oppose the candidacy of an incumbent, but that it was also “not unheard of.”

Further update: After reading the above comments, Mary Beth Jahn said that Mowczan told her he was allowing the challenges to her seat “because I did not give him a promise to support Jim Manning for business administrator.”

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