For the record, I offer the picture of me on the left with Freeholder Lillian Burry and Freeholder Candidate Gary Rich (Thanks Rhoda!) as proof I was in attendance bright and early Saturday morning at the Western Monmouth Freeholder Candidate Forum in Manalapan. "Erik" was not in attendance to the best of my knowledge so as he spews his non-sense in anonymity, please consider he/she may not be very well informed.
Also, before I get into my notes, do know a fellow event-attendee (whose name I'll withhold the name since I'm not he wants his name posted... but he's Wilma's husband *wink wink*) thanked me for this -- using my real name online. I introduce myself to people I know, and don't know, as James Hogan-Long Branch, using the same real name I use here and I'm as blunt and honest in person as I am when I write; I don't hide, I don't try to force people to agree with me or preach but I certainly don't hide and the things I say and the things I type online are the things I'll say in a room of people as well. If you did hear me introduced by any other name, I blame "Uncle John", aka John Costigan, who introduces me to people by my Irish name "Shamus", which I find oddly humorous in the sense that "Shamus" is slang for a private investigator and I do like to think part of my responsibility to local voters and readers here is to investigate the goings on of our party and report back. "Shamus" it is John!
So on to the event. The event was very well attended. I didn't try to take an actual head count but I would estimate 40-50 people in attendance. If my number is off, I would say it's more likely to be off in the low direction and there were more than that. It wasn't just numbers, it was a "who's-who" of numbers. Freeholders Clifton, Burry, and Curley were all in attendance as well as Sheriff Golden, who led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Surrogate Rosemarie Peters who is up for re-election this year. Former Freeholder Anna Little was also in attendance and many of the usual names and faces I see at most county events were all in attendance. If there is or was bad blood between anyone, I didn't see it and can confirm there were no shouting matches or fist fights, no one had to be asked to leave and, to the best of my knowledge and what I saw, no one was vocally rude or disrespectful to any of the candidates or other party members. I can also confirm that I asked several people if there was a fix that I could get in on and all had the same response "if there is a fix, I don't know about it!". Again, I saw no backroom deals, payoffs, bribes or other pressure from anyone to support anything. The whole forum and process from my perspective was very fair and open and I didn't see anyone turned away and denied the opportunity to have their platform heard as I perceived my case in 2008.
The forum itself was moderated by Millstone Municipal Chairman Steve Lambros, who really seemed to go out of his way to make sure that the event was fair. The format allowed for a 20 minute Q&A session with each candidate while the other candidates were out of the room. Each candidate was given 2 minutes to introduce themselves, asked the same six questions and given 2 1/2 minutes to answer each question. Any time left over/not used for questions was given as more free talking time at the end of the Q&A session. At the forum and to the best of my knowledge, the potential candidates in alphabetical order, the same order they were heard from, are:
Andrew Lucas - Manalapan Mayor
George Newberry - Wall Township Counsel/Former Mayor
Gary Rich - Spring Lake Township Counsel
Bob Walsh - Howell Township Mayor
Being oddly and rarely unprepared (without a good notepad) I didn't write down each of the six questions or make specific notes on the answers so I only offer these very general opinions and urge those interested in learning more to attend the next candidate forum which I believe is March 10th in Ocean Township. If you need more information, let me know and I'll get all of the details and post here.
Andew Lucas -- I was very impressed with Andew Lucas' ability to think about each question and give a reasonable and rational answer. He has a very professional look about him and speaks in a way which sounds like he knows what he's talking about and you should listen. While that may sound vague - for those of you who have met me, you'll know I'm a terrible public speaker - lots of uhhs and umms, I stutter... none of that with Lucas - he speaks very sure and very confident of what he says. The one thing I did note is that Lucas seems to have a very academic/predicable approach to politics. I believe he was the only one who named exact departments and items to cut, which may or not be reasonable/possible and in the best interest of the people, or he could have already done the research and be correct. I just don't know, but he seemed very confident (which can be good or bad) in his opinions and maybe promising to gut or change specific department will turn off certain groups of voters and/or set him up for failure if those departments simply can not really be downsized or cut.
Bonus Factor: Lucas has won his election in Manalapan, which he claims is a 2:1 D town 3 times. Lucas may really bring new/extra votes to the line in the general election and help the races at the top of the ticket or any municipal races that end up below him.
George Newberry - I posted my notes on Newberry before. I really like the guy. I think he gives well thought-out answers and really understands the dynamics between people and issues well. However, and again, not to be negative, Newberry really came across as "boring" for lack of a better term and "not boring" isn't something you can teach. I'm boring, I know. Also, a few times he was speaking with his hands in his pockets, which means very little to me but body language says a lot to some people and hands in the pockets means hiding something. Again, I do want to stress, I really believe that Newberry has a very realistic grasp on the issues and a solid approach to addressing the issues, I'm just not sure he has that "it" factor like a John Curly or a Tom Arnone, who really stands out in a crowd.
Bonus Factor: Newberry has firm support from people I see working hard and working often. IMO, half or more of the people in attendance were there because Newberry sent a postcard inviting people there. This should not be overlooked. Newberry is the candidate who, IMO, can help the upticket and down ticket races the most with his campaign efforts assuming the funding for mailers he seems to have now is there later on and assuming the hard workers I see in his camp continue to be hardworkers.
Gary Rich - STAND OUT OF THE DAY. Without a doubt, Gary Rich was the standout candidate of this group with his ability to answer the questions and demonstrate a real firm grasp of both people and politics and be exciting and fun and professional and a real commanding presence. Do note that this is Rich's third time running for Freeholder and so I would say that if he couldn't outshine the new comers on their first County Freeholder Forum, I'd of been surprised. The only downside that I see for Rich is that he comes from a very small shore town where Republicans have lost two seats in the past two years and Rich has lost past Freeholder races. I'd be curious/concerned how much support he can really build and if he'd be able to pull in additional votes to help others on the line or if he'd just be along for the ride.
Bonus Factor: Again, Rich really stands out as the guy in the group who knows how to talk and be exciting and still stick to principles. He also has some good name recognition from past county wide races. On issues alone, at this point, Rich would be my choice (as if I mattered), but again, the general population may not vote on issues alone and if Rich can't get his message out and can't win in his hometown, where he stands on the issues might not even matter if he won't be able to win county wide.
Bob Walsh - This guy has "it". Art at MMM posted a link to this story about Chris Christie, read it (it's long) and then come back, please. In the Lonegan vs Christie days, I was on team Lonegan because Lonegan seemed to be talking about the issues. He seemed to understand the issues and have some ideas to solve some problems. Meanwhile Christie just stuck to a very specific general theme and told stories to relate to people and get their support and I've said it before and I'll say it again, Christie has really won me over with his attitude, bluntness and approach to dealing with people and issues. Bob Walsh is NOT Chris Christie, but Bob Walsh seems to have a VERY similar style to Christie. Walsh doesn't look or sound like the other candidates when he speaks, he doesn't always give a direct answer that exudes confidence and understanding of the issue at hand. But what he seemed to do was be able to relate a personal anecdote that demonstrated that he's aware of the issue and faces the same issues and understands both sides of the proverbial coin and then gives a vague high-level answer. I'd really love to look for Walsh to sharpen his tone and appearance and be our candidate, but I'm not sure others will see, or even agree, with the likeness in approach to Christie that I see or think is there nor can I be sure that Walsh will be able to sell himself and build the grass-roots support like Christie did.
Bonus Factor: Howell is huge and Howell has some very dedicated, hardworking people who I'm certain will work extra hard for their local candidate. Walsh recently/still has some personal family issues that he is dealing with but he seems to be dedicated to public service and is a very likable, relatable guy. If others see the likeness to Christie, that I think is there, expect Walsh to gain traction fast with the people who supported Christie, and there are plenty of them and grow a solid supporting cast of workers.
So all of that is my $0.02. We have four GREAT candidates for Freeholder which demonstrates the growing depth on the Republican bench. We also had a very civilized, well run, fair forum for all of the candidates to present their opinions and while I could tell from the expressions and interest on some faces in the crowd as some candidates spoke that some minds well already made up before anyone said a word, the forum itself was very fair and well organized. There were no "gotcha" questions and certainly no "fix" in place for anyone.
And most important, as I said when I wrote about Newberry, it will be interesting to see who Lillian Burry would like to run with, and while some county committee members or chairs might disagree with me, I think her opinion on who gets the line with her, is more important than my personal opinion just as it'll be interesting to see if John Curly and/or Arnone and Clifton get behind any specific candidate because who they work with and who joins the face of the Republican Freeholder Board will have a direct impact on them in their next election cycle.
March 10th is another day, my opinion and recommendation to my chairman is still undecided, not that my chairman has to vote my way at the screening committee or my fellow committee members will agree with anything I say or think.