Precarious Coalitions Forming in Montclair

UPDATED with news of Peter Zorich’s entrance into the race and quotes from Karen Turner.

If you think that the current Montclair town council is dysfunctional, just wait. A sudden shift in municipal politics has split up the highly-anticipated slate led by Robert Jackson, leaving spurned suitors. It now seems inevitable that no one slate will prevail in May, and bitter enemies will wind up sitting next to each other at 205 Claremont Ave.

It had long been rumored that Jackson — a former mayor of Montclair — was going to lead a slate with running mates Chris Swenson, Joe Kavesh and Karen Turner. But Jackson was cagey, canceling an interview with Baristanet right after New Year’s. And then 1st Ward Councilor Richard Murnick suddenly appeared a likely running mate of Jackson.

Now a new Jackson slate has emerged, and has been confirmed by Murnick. Jackson’s running mates are Murnick, Robert Russo and Rich McMahon.

Spurned running mate Chris Swenson told the Montclair Times yesterday that he will head his own slate, which will include Karen Turner and William Hurlock. Joe Kavesh, originally on the Jackson team, told us last night he hasn’t made any decisions.

But Karen Turner told a doozy of tale to Montclair Patch. She says that Jackson was a no-show at a platform discussion meeting of his former slate. Then someone noticed an email from their leader saying he was considering changing the slate. “He broke up with us by email,” Turner told Patch. Her phone answering system was full this morning, but she called us later to add to confirm the story she told Patch.

“Effectively, he built this team and just kind of abandoned ship,” Turner said of Jackson. She added that he has not returned her phone calls lately.

Turner also said that the final composition of her new slate remains fluid. Swenson is the mayoral candidate “at this point in time,” she said. With  Harvey Susswein and herself planning to run as “at large” candidates and Bill Hurlock running for 1st Ward. She confirmed that Kavesh has not made a commitment.

Asked what the current town council is doing wrong, Turner said, “not working together as a team effectively.” She also criticized the current group for not accepting more volunteer help from the community. ‘They really didn’t welcome help of the talented citizen pool. I would have jumped all over help from the CFC.” And she said she was disappointed that the council tonight is planning to extend the deadline for town manager Marc Dashield to move to Montclair.

Former Mayor Bob Russo apparently also came home to a full answering machine last night: “I just got in from a great Chinese restaurant celebrating the Chinese New Year……but did not expect such political fireworks as well!” He told us that, as a member of the Jackson slate, he will “focus on the issues of fiscal responsibility, property tax reform and budget transparency” as well as regionalization and consolidation of services.

Peter Zorich, lifelong Montclair resident and son of actress Olympia Dukakis also picked up an “at large” packet at town hall yesterday, but whether he’ll run with either Jackson or Swenson is as yet undecided. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people,” Zorich said. “Things have been changing dramatically.”

Political observer Martin Schwartz was disappointed at the shuffling. “Sadly, the progressive but fiscally responsible coalition forming has just split apart. And unfortunately, both sides are scrambling and starting to make short-sighted political decisions to try and regain their footing,” he said. “It appears we may be headed again for split slates, or a limited slate effect with residents just ignoring those ties and instead veting the best candidates.”

House of cards photo by Freddy the Boy via Flickr.

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  1. From out here it sort of feels like high school and the popular kids are all riled up about who is and who is not getting invited to the football captain’s party on his dad’s yacht.

    I would like a slate of new faces. I don’t care about their politics.

  2. With major transparency caused by the internet ….and strategies and truths shared openly on social media, perhaps the age of a local government in Montclair has reached its functional obsolescence….and its just an annoying waste of time for all.

  3. Half of the people in this town have no idea of what the slate of candidates for whom they are voting stands for. Former Mayor Russo has, in my opinion, been given a huge shot in the arm by the stupendous incompetence of the current crew of buffoons that we have in office. It’s nice to hear that he is concerned about fiscal responsibility, tax reform, et.el., but he’s already had a bite at the apple and his record proves otherwise. It is an immutable law that progressive goals must be tempered by fiscal responsibility. That is to say, certain things would be nice to have, but we can’t afford to implement them and there is no practical mechanism on the horizon to change that. Unfortunately, for every man or woman that goes out to earn a living in this town, there seem to be two progressive idealists actively ruminating about how to defend the status quo, or advance some social agenda at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile the empirical data (school enrollments, 4th ward population trend data) seem to point to the conclusion that these irresponsible schemes are having basically the opposite of their intended effect, to the detriment of our community. Warren Buffett once said “When the tide goes out, well all see who’s been swimming naked.” Well, it’s low tide, and our leaders and those that support them had better find something to put on. It ain’t pretty.

  4. Unfortunately, for every man or woman that goes out to earn a living in this town, there seem to be two progressive idealists actively ruminating about how to defend the status quo, or advance some social agenda at taxpayer expense

    I see this complaint often here, and it always baffles me. What are these “progressive” agenda items that the council keeps spending money on, because I just don’t see them.

  5. You see Nick, thats the problem. Governing this town is like trying to run a kitchen with too many cooks. The vainglorious attempt to establish a vibrant Utopian community that embraces all forms of progressiveness and diversity is fast becoming an ungovernable Bedlam. It will turn into something, but it cannot be palatable to everyone, and once it becomes unpalatable to the taxpayers and homeowners the changes will begin and they won’t be for the better.

  6. How about the “whole street” nonsense? Or bike lanes, or mandated bike racks and lockers? How about solar light posts in front of Rand School which will take 80 years to break even? (like they’ll last that long). LEED’s construction mandates? Subsidized moderate income housing? How about the $20,000 in windmills at the water tanks which save $250 per year in electricity? The solar panels on the Bullock School, which will take a century to break even? How much do we spend on our Environmental Coordinator? How about kowtowing to public employee unions? How’s that for starters?

  7. Stupendous incompetence of the current crew …also goes for the Commissions and other appointed committees… these structures have failed and must be replaced by competent, transparent and honest individuals…(not volunteers billing the township for professional time….unheard of…unacceptable!!) Just looking at the artists renderings of Crisco Court or the The Siena….and the miserable buildings that resulted are a HUGH slap in the community’s face. Totally unacceptable. What does the BID do? Is it in their constitution to make Montclair Center worse?

  8. I am of the belief that current non-partisan slate/coalition approach is becoming more of a liability than a benefit for the candidates and voters. The memories of the broad, generic promises from the 2008 slates and the coming Spring discussion to shift to November elections will see the added voter turnout make their choices cafeteria plan style, not by slate. If so, one benefit may be to eliminate the animosity arising from candidates not fulfilling the quid pro quos established through the election process.

    Furthermore, slates never sweep the elections and 2012 should not be different. Renee and Cary have defined the representative role of ward-specific councilors. The mayoral contest is a vote to tinker with, but reaffirm the current school system paradigm. The at-large candidates run on general values targeting 1 or 2 large voter blocks and try not to offend anyone with specifics.

    All conjecture on my part, but I expect to see more breakdowns in the crafting and controlling a unified message in what could be a very raucous race. For those running for specific wards, it could be every candidate for themselves at the end.

  9. I can’t wait to hear the slate names.

    Move Montclair Forward!

    Forward Montclair Moves!

    To The Fore Moves Montclair!

    Commandante Cary’s Crusaders!

    Really the name should be:

    Forward Utilizing Concern, Knowledge, Education and Dedication!

  10. How non-partisan are these elections anyway? People might not be running with a D or R beside their name, but according to the artile in the Montclair Times, the addition of Russo to the Jackson slate was at the encouragement of the Montclair Democratic Party.

    “Swenson claimed that Jackson was convinced to add Russo to his slate by the Montclair Democratic organization.

    “I know he’s being pressured behind the scenes by various factions,” Swenson said. “It’s more important to pick the right people.”

    Russo and Murnick are fierce campaigners, but not a good match for the team that Swenson had envisioned, he said.

    “We want council people who can really work hard and have the skill sets to fix the problem,” Swenson said.

    In response to Swenson, Jackson said, “I find his comments regrettable. His apparent bitterness. I’m not sure where it’s coming from. I’ve never publicly made a commitment to anybody. I’ve been evaluating individuals with whom I’d like to run, and based on this response, I think I’ve made a very wise decision to run with the people I’m going to run with.”

    Jackson said that seeking input from the leaders of the local Democratic Party is “wisdom,” and he added that he also sought the input of the leaders of the town’s Republican party.”

  11. “…or a limited slate effect with residents just ignoring those ties and instead veting the best candidates.”

    Good! We need those “best candidates”, regardless of the slate-of-convenience they might choose. Hopefully, our metric includes “ability to work with others” – something we clearly missed in our vetting of the current council.


  12. “not volunteers billing the township for professional time”

    Isn’t this a contradiction? Did I miss a news story where “volunteers” were found to be billing/paid?


  13. I think Montclair should consider outsourcing its entire government to the Boy Scouts of America. At least then they would have adult supervision.

  14. The election is not even underway and already there is bitterness. Must we be subjected in the coming months to hearing how the opposition clings to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-taxpayer sentiment or anti-public employee sentiment as a way to exploit voter frustrations and somehow differentiate their campaigns?

    Debbie must feeling be like Jon Stewart awaiting Newt.

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