Dems wary of low turnout potential at campaign kick-off

Democrats Matthew Goode (left) and Sophia Lamberson (right) seen in this file photo from their September 2015 campaign kickoff were elected to the Keyport Borough Council  Nov. 3Democrats Matthew Goode (left) and Sophia Lamberson (right) seen in this file photo from their September 2015 campaign kickoff were elected to the Keyport Borough Council Nov. 3

KEYPORT — Democrats Sophia Lamberson and Matthew Goode struck a cautious but optimistic tone Tuesday night during their campaign kick-off.

The incumbent running mates spoke briefly at an intimate reception at Dylan’s Pizzeria to a gathering of party faithful.

One of their top concerns is the low turnout expected during the General Election this November because there is no national or statewide election to pull voters to the polls.

“Elections can be lost by one vote in this town,” Lamberson said. “It’s important that you get out.”

NEWS ANALYSIS

They have a legitimate concern.

Control of the Borough Council is up for grabs, and last year voters split.

Republican Harry Aumack II took 54 percent of the mayoral vote over Democrat Joy-Michele Tomczak’s 46 percent for mayor.

Democrats Joseph Sheridan and Isaiah Cooper won much narrower victories over Republicans Gaylee Benedict and Jacqueline Kovacs-Olsen. Cooper won his seat with just 905 votes to Benedict’s 900, according to unofficial results.

Lamberson and Goode are facing the team of Benedict and Kovacs-Olsen this year.

Even though the Dems control four of the six seats on the council, a loss of just one will give Republicans control of borough government.

Mayor Aumack casts the tie-breaking vote.

On most business, the council votes in a unanimous block to approve resolutions or adopt regulations, so the Mayor’s influence over the outcome of any vote is often diminished.

To be sure, there have been only five times this year where a councilor cast a dissenting ballot, according to available minutes on the borough website. In 2015, the mayor has never broken a tie.

The instances in which there has been dissent are in some ways a guide to borough’s more charged and divisive issues.

Lamberson was the only dissenter when the Borough Council approved the sale of Williamson Street to the developer of 24 two-bedroom apartments between the Green Grove Avenue apartment complex and Chingarora Creek.

That’s the same development — Baypoint — that needs an entirely new hearing because Kovacs-Olsen and her father John Kovacs, both members of the Planning Board, inappropriately participated in hearings despite an inherent conflict of interest.

Lamberson and former Councilman Ken McPeek cast dissenting ballots when the Borough Council approved a license to a Keyport Yellow Taxi driver. But it was Councilman Ken Howe, one of the two Republican councilors, who cast a dissenting ballot in June when the Borough Council approved a 60-day operating extension for the yellow cabs. The council allowed that license to lapse, and then refused to grant a permanent operating license to the company.

In one of the rare strictly partisan votes, Howe and Republican Warren Chamberlain voted against filing a grant application to win an award from the Monmouth County Open Space Trust Fund to renovate Main Street Park. The proposals include a skate plaza.

Borough Republicans have routinely fought against the construction of a skate park. When the GOP took control of the borough government their first clear act was to kill a skate park planned for Division Street, which was going to be funded in part from a grant from the county trust fund.

Howe, however, flipped his position after a public hearing on the park plans earlier this month, and Benedict spoke in favor of the improvements because the Main Street Park proposals will benefit more than just skateboarders.

For her part, Lamberson said nothing in her introductory remarks Tuesday about the issues driving her to run. She cast herself as a mother of two and a homeowner who sees service on the Borough Council as the capstone to years of volunteer work.

Goode, who was appointed this year to replace McPeek who resigned earlier this year, focused more on policy.

He said that he wants to shepherd “responsible redevelopment” in several areas by bringing new businesses and updated housing as a means of increasing the tax base to lower the tax burden on existing residents. He didn’t offer specifics.