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.”