Montclair Election 2016: Is Anyone Actually Running?


Back in 2011, by October we knew that Harvey Susswein was planning to run in 2012, and that he had set his sights on the mayoral seat. His website reveal may have been premature but Susswein had been planning to announce officially after Thanksgiving. November was also the time when former mayor and current Deputy Mayor Robert Russo ended speculation about a running again for mayor, but also declared himself as interested and available for another position. “No one gets re-elected mayor in Montclair,” Russo said in a speech to supporters in November 2011 at Tierney’s.

Flash forward to this year, late December, and there have been no announcements, but there is a new “slate” — the “Maybe Montclair” candidates. The silence so far has resulted in many questions about 2016, with the biggest one of all being whether or not Montclair’s current mayor, Robert Jackson, will try and do what hasn’t been done in recent memory — to become more than a one-term Montclair mayor by winning re-election.

When asked the question, Jackson says he still does not know whether he will run or not.

“In terms of the local election, there’s a long way to go and I haven’t fully thought it through with my family and friends,” says Jackson, adding, “I am extremely proud of the record of this Council and gratified by ‎the outpouring of support for me and, in fact, the team to keep it going. ‎I know that we’ve worked really hard and ‘teed it up’ nicely for the next Council in any event.”

Is there a long way to go? Not really. According to Linda Wanat, Montclair’s municipal clerk, no potential candidate has asked for information yet, but all interested candidates will be able to pick up packets the beginning of January. All candidate petitions must be submitted by March 7, 2016. The date of the election is May 10.


If Jackson decides not to run, expect the political landscape to change significantly. Candidates are clearly waiting to see what he will do. The longer Jackson waits to decide, any potential candidates, as well as his four 2012 slate mates and current council members, may have to decide to run without knowing his status or risk losing momentum.

In terms of the incumbents, most (below) are clearly indicating they will run again, but whether they stay together as a slate, whether one or more run for Mayor (possibly against each other) if Jackson doesn’t and whether you see moves from ward to at-large candidates remains to be seen.

Baristanet reached out to both incumbents and possible new candidates. Here’s what they said:


Bill Hurlock, First Ward Councilor: “Yes, I am seriously considering another run. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the residents of Montclair’s First Ward. I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support and interest I have received to run for a second term.”

Robin Schlager Second Ward Councilor:
“Yes, I enjoy serving on the town council, I would like to continue. I will be considering my options and will decide in the new year.”

Rich McMahon, Councilor-At-Large: “I’ve enjoyed my tenure on the council. The future is still under consideration.”

Sean Spiller, 3rd Ward Councilor: “At this time, while extremely pleased with what we have accomplished thus far, I remain focused on even further reducing our township debt and supporting our many wonderful programs. With the budget process in its early stages, continuing support of Community Policing program, the public library, early education, street and infrastructure improvements are a priority.

Of course, I am sure that in the near future there will be plenty of conversations and specific answers to your questions will be determined.”

Bob Russo, Deputy Mayor:
“I’m still exploring the 2017 race for Governor but so many have asked me to reconsider and stay on the town council to finish the good work we have been doing. I love serving the residents of Montclair and will make a decision on seeking another term in the near future.” Russo previously served as mayor of Montclair from 2000 to 2004.

Dr. Renee Baskerville, 4th Ward Councilor: ??? (still waiting to hear, but if we were wagering, it’s a safe bet that Baskerville will run again.)


“At this time, I am exploring running for office, but I am not certain for which position. I will make a final decision in January.” – Selma Avdicevic, who ran last election as an independent candidate for the 2nd Ward seat.


“I am considering it, but haven’t made any final decisions. Right now, I am more focused on the Civil Rights Commission (CRC) and Library Board.” — Joe Kavesh, Trustee of the Montclair Public Library, Chair of the CRC. Kavesh entertained a run in 2012, but withdrew from the race in March of that year.

“I am proud resident of Montclair, but as long as I am serving as chief counsel to the attorney general, the attorney general ethical guidelines preclude me from holding any other office.” — Jeff Jacobson, who was a candidate for the 3rd Ward councilor seat in 2012. Jacobson was later appointed to the Capital Finance Committee, where he served as chairman.

“I’m always interested in ways to give back to the township. I haven’t made any decisions on the 2016 race yet. But will let you know.” — Rich Murnick, previous First Ward Councilor (2008-2012) who made an unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2012.

“I have a lot more work to do on the Planning Board as the Mayor’s representative to continue to help him turn around our land use policies. I would assume that when he and the current Council finally make a decision about the next election, it will be very apparent if there’s any need, or opportunity for additional service. If so, I’ll look over the landscape then as many will who are involved in local politics. But right now, I’m focused really on all the redevelopment plans coming up. The challenge remains to try to balance improved ratables, while still preserving our unique character and special quality of life.” — Martin Schwartz, a local business owner, who in addition to serving on the Planning Board as Jackson’s representative had previously served as a representative of the Environmental Commission on the Planning Board. Schwartz had plenty to say in 2012 about the last election.

“I plan on being involved in some capacity but probably not as a candidate.” — Peter Zorich, who ran for At-Large Council seat in 2012.


Shelly Lombard: Former Montclair BOE member and president, and now, one of the voices associated with Montclair Kids First, did not answer when asked what her intentions were for 2016 Montclair elections.

Jonathan Simon: Montclair Achievement Gap Advisory Panel chair says “I have no plans to run for any public office.”

Cary Africk: The former 2nd ward councilor who served with Mayor Jerry Fried from 2008 to 2012 says he has “No plans to run.”

Linda Bowers: She served as Montclair School Action Team chair and has worked hard on the Fun Run, Joe Walsh concert and other school events, but when we asked Bowers she said “Thanks for the nice compliment, but no Town Council for me!”

Jason DeSalvo: “I am flattered, but I have no intentions of running. I love my work on the Planning Board and am strongly supportive of the work our current council is doing and my hope is that they will run together as a slate.”

Sefu Fuller: Fuller, who has been involved in Montclair Housing Commission and NAACP, picked up a packet and talked about a mayoral run in 2012, but hasn’t indicated plans for this election.

Leann Carlson, who ran with Real Progress in 2012, says she has no plans to run. Leslie Larson is a no. Walter Springer says he is undecided. What about Tim Barr or even Ed Remsen? Insiders believe that if Jackson does not run, you may see the field of candidates widen, much like the long list of 2016 Republican presidential candidates.

Henry DeKoninck, who was enlisted in 2012 by Montclair 2012 and won both recognition of Stanley F. Reed Award for his performance on the campaign, says he hasn’t been engaged by any candidate for the 2016 municipal cycle. “Seems quiet so far. I would expect the field of candidates to develop in the next 4 to 6 weeks,” says DeKoninck.

What’s your prediction? When will the first slate be announced? Will Jackson try for a second term? Will we see musical chairs in terms of slates and an increase in independent candidates? And will issues surrounding education or smarter development emerge as major platforms?

Editor’s note: We welcome comments and encourage different viewpoints. Please refrain from any comments that involve allegations or personal attacks. Please do not respond to these comments, but report any comment that is offensive or hostile to us at tips at baristanet dot com.
Comments may be closed if comments become repetitive and argumentative between a few commenters or when the discussion should move to a more recent posting.

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  1. Great, another election. The last one was about the low point of my Montclair residency. Lots of very well to do self-appointed kings and queens of town declared that Jackson was a complete disaster and how it was certain gloom and doom if he was elected. Many of them withdrew from volunteer positions they had, with a big flourish, insisting they were done with the town and would soon be putting their homes on the market. (Of course none of them did.) Very offended that someone saw the world differently than they did. Four years later Jackson seems to have quietly done a fine job, we have problems like every town does, but unless I missed it he certainly hasn’t driven the town off a cliff like many predicted. Looks like our economic position has if anything gotten significantly better. When the shortage of parking spots for brunch is in the top ten problems in your town everything is going ok.

  2. Another title for the article might have been “Montclair Election 2016: The Waffle House.” Or, “Definitely maybe.”

    Interesting that several defeated candidates from previous elections are on the list: Jacobson, Avdicevic, Zorich (who has lost 2 elections), and Murnick.

  3. many of these names are on the Montclair kids first list of members. I’d say any of those people are non-starters. I will personally do my best to make sure any of those candidates are defeated if they decide to run.

  4. The four people mentioned above are exceedingly well qualified and would make a big difference in how the town is run.

  5. There are thousands of people in town who are ideologically opposed to MKF’s brand of education reform, as evidenced by the huge PARCC refusal rates. I’d say putting your name on that list publicly was a huge mistake if you want to run for town office. Cary, I thought you did a good job on the council. I’m sure those MKF members are your friends. But if they want to introduce, enforce or promote corporate reform in our public schools, I don’t care how qualified you think they are. I, along with others, will fight to make sure they don’t succeed.

  6. In addition to the four mention in the comments, I also enthusiastically support Joe Kavesh! He and his family go back years and years in Montclair. Joe brings experience, dedication, and intelligence to the table. I would LOVE to see him on the Council!

  7. Africk – you mean well and have good ideas, but you were totally ineffective as a politician sitting on that incompetent council back in 2008 with Jerry Fried.

    Stick with policy..not politics and endorsements. I use to laugh reading you take on your own Council team over their stupidities. Back then, you got it.

    But now, the judgement is gone. How can you back these conservative, MKF people? They’re completely out of touch for what our schools need. Their superintendent Penny M. disrupted the entire education system.

    Keep them around as PTA volunteers..sure. But sitting on the town council? Forget it. Dangerous.

    Last came out backing that slate set up by the former Mayor Remsen and talking nicey nice about him. Wasn’t it his group that put us in the big money hole?

    [portion of comment removed]

  8. feildingmellish, when you say you oppose “corporate reforms” of education, what are you referring to besides PARCC and possibly charters? Sincere question.

  9. What about Matt Frankel? He’s very active building a political base in Newark and Jersey City, with connections to a certain Mayor who wants to become Governor; and his group was very busy at the recent League of Municipalities soiree in Atlantic City, spending big bucks hobnobbing with state politicos. Maybe, he should be asked what his political aspirations might be, here in his hometown.

  10. The union trolls just couldn’t wait to polarize the issue of education in town, so they have started already. MKF is hardly a reform organization. They have never advocated charter schools in Montclair (unlike the head of the Union), nor are they a conservative organization. Sort of a shame actually, as we wish they would expose these juvenile attacks for what they are. Sadly, they seem to want to do the best for our kids and they don’t reply, which obviously drives the haters in the MCAS group nuts.

  11. Matt Frankel appears to be the guy behind and driving all these MKF people. It’s very cagey if they are running a slate together to try to take back control of the BOE. And if so, who is with them really?

    But Jeff Jacobson was not and is not connected even though he’s listed together in the comment above. I remember he ran a very solid and issue directed campaign last time in the 3rd ward. He’s very smart and very articulate. Too bad he can’t try again.

  12. Thank you @Cary Africk for your opinions about some of the potential candidates.

    While I share the concerns of @therealworld about MKF, it looks like the only MKF-affiliated person thinking about running is Avdicevic. The others mentioned by @Cary Africk above do not appear to be affiliated with MKF.

  13. i don’t think he will run again. If you have teed it up and know where the pin is, then the rest is just a series of strokes.

  14. Over the years I’ve had many great conversations with Henry DeKoninck. I think he is excellent! His observations on the election process in our country are spot on. He is skilled, and intelligent. He would be one of my first people to call if I were running for any office.

    There is no conspiracy between Henry and his mother, Jessica DeKoninck, who is also superbly qualified for her work.

  15. Those wondering why good people are not running need look no further than therealworld’s posts. Personal, nasty attacks. Anonymous, of course!

  16. MKF has a web site listing their members. Peter Zorich is on it (he’s in the article above), as was former school Board of Ed members Shelly Lombard and Leslie Larson – also mentioned above.

    In the article, Lombard wouldn’t answer if she’s running. She’s the former BOE President and rumored to be heading up the slate these MKF people and their supporters are trying to put together. Selma Avdicevic and Linda Bowers – also mentioned above – were supposed to be on it. Selma said she’s a yes..but Bowers says she’s not running. So maybe they just can’t get it together.

    Don Katz, former BOE vice-chair Leslie Larson’s husband (Larson also not running she says) is supposed to be the money man behind Matt Frankel, who is former school Superintendent Penny MacCormack’s former PR consultant.

    Is Frankel running? No one asked it seems. He’s likely the one writing and pushing all the MKF outbound stuff with Katz, or that Newark connected group mentioned by meccamagic above – supposedly paying. Remember the letter Don Katz wrote in the Montclair Times saying that as soon as his wife Leslie was off the school board, it was pay back time?

    There is clearly a lot of animosity still coming from these MKF people for losing control of the BOE. You see their defenders above like Montclairreformer. They obviously can’t accept that their vision of “reform” was rejected by much of the community.

    They could not get traction here and still think everyone pushing back at them is a “union troll” or some NJ. Democrat sent by the MEA. That’s because their Gov. Christy connected heroine to fix the world — Penny MacCormack – was run out of town.

    But she did it to herself. Everyone knows BOE changes are needed. Yet, after all her bluster about improving professionalism. After all her uptight ‘enemy’ like mindset dealing with teachers as the opposition – she ended up in the same out of control fiscal place as her predecessor Alvarez – also managed by Lombard and Larson.

    Penny their designated savior woke up one day facing an $11 million dollar budget shortfall that she didn’t know was coming. That’s why she ran for the hills – the last straw after her ‘testing’ rejected humiliation.

    So it must be painful today for the MKF crowd that this new guy Bolandi is starting to turn the ship around. Bolandi seems to be making things better on all BOE fronts, but without also blowing up the community.

  17. There is no animosity from MKF. It only serves the needs of the union to have someone/anyone to attack. Conspicuously missing from the spotontarget narrative is the well documented activities of “our neighbors” to discredit and destroy Dr. MacCormack. The facts and emails speak for themselves. The facts around the budget shortfall are also brushed under the table here, since anyone who spends 5 minutes with the BOE data could see how that actually happened. Putting the blame on Lombard and Larson also shows a lack of understanding on their responsibility as board members. You all really are clueless, aren’t you?

  18. Africk – the Jeff Jacobson certainly didn’t think what I said was “nasty.”
    What you’re saying is that because I questioned your choices and showed your contradictions from the past, this translates into a personal attack.

    Well man up dude. You sat up there with the politics. Deal with the heat.
    Today, you’re still trying to tell everyone they should to do.

    Since your preaching again and coming down again from the mount, shouldn’t your own past picks become part of that evaluation too?

  19. Editor’s note: We welcome comments and encourage different viewpoints. Please refrain from any comments that involve allegations or personal attacks. Please do not respond to these comments, but report any comment that is offensive or hostile to us at tips at baristanet dot com.

    Comments may be closed if comments become repetitive and argumentative between a few commenters or when the discussion should move to a more recent posting.

  20. Despite the fact that no one has actually declared, the battle lines are being drawn.

    Africk responded to a post regarding several past candidates possibly running again (Zorich, Avdicevic, Jacobson, and Murnick): “The four people mentioned above are exceedingly well qualified and would make a big difference in how the town is run”. Africk then added a 5th to the list (Kavesh), who, according to the article, is a library Trustee and chairs the Civil Rights Committee: “Joe brings experience, dedication, and intelligence to the table. I would LOVE to see him on the Council!”

    The Real World responded: “How can you back these conservative, MKF people?”

    As someone has since noted, MKF’s website lists Zorich and Avdicevic as members (as well as others in the article who say they are not running, such as Larsen and Bowers). But the other 3 of Africk’s “choices” (Real World’s word) are not associated with MKF. And, a closer review of the article reveals that Zorich and Jacobson are unlikely to run.

    Guess we’re all getting a preview of the playbook.

  21. This election season will not be any fun if Jackson runs. Quite the opposite if he doesn’t.

    Since only the Mayor picks the BOE members, the anti-MKF crowd should be concerned. Assuming Russo doesn’t run for Governor, then I think he has to run for Mayor – even though past Mayors don’t get re-elected. If he thinks he’s got even half the qualifications to be governor, then he also has to feel the At-Large position is below him. Hence, he runs for Mayor.

    Now we get into the vote-splitting depending on who else runs. Since less than 5% of the job involves the public schools realm, voters will need – if they remember – to also consider a candidate that can bring Jackson-esque qualities to the remaining 95% of the job.

    PS: The 2016-17 MPS Budget process is going to be nuts!

  22. fieldingmellish – that article you posted above is an excellent synthesis of what’s wrong with corporate education reform. Worth the read. It summarizes key issues many are concerned with here — poor teaching and improving results.

    The piece drills into exactly what happened in Montclair — imposition of a data management/testing system instead of a better run, collaborative instructional turn-around process.

    Hopefully, our new Superintendent can achieve those turn-around results that everyone wants here and create a better performing system — but without the acrimony and in-fighting we’ve seen in the past.

  23. Feildingmellish, thanks for link on “corporate education reform.” I support most those policies (closing failing schools and weakening teachers unions so bad teachers cant hold kids back) so call me a corporate reformer. Oddly, except for providing testing and charter schools, none of those reforms are remotely corporate. It would be about as appropriate to call them small business reforms or fish reforms or just reforms. “Corporate” seems attached to excite lefties.

  24. Forget the corporate education reform bs! MacCormack will be gone over 15 months when the campaigns kick into high gear. The current BOE is not setting any speed records for accomplishing anything, but you think maybe a new Super may come along before a new mayor does?

  25. Strauss and Karp are union mouth pieces, and are hardly objective. Linking to them is about as weak an argument one could make. Sort of expected that Jackson’s primary apologist, Schwartz would offer his lock step support of them. You are correct Mr. Rubacky. What has DeKoninck done? Schwartz himself has often posted here on how MacCormack failed by not building a consensus. It is so very easy for him to look the other way when the interim guy here now has done the same thing MacCormack did by going it alone and has not received any of the negative press because the union got what they wanted. Or maybe it was because she was a woman [portion of comment deleted]

  26. In response to Frank’s question (“… you think maybe a new Super may come along before a new mayor does?”), don’t bet on it. I believe Bolandi has a 2 year contract. More likely, the next BOE will hire his successor. Win or lose in May, the Mayor has 3 BOE appointments before his term ends.

  27. Montclairreformer – you make a number of points here to address.

    On Education: I think you are forgetting that the Mayor could have killed BOE support for Penny MacCormack much earlier on in his term by not reappointing BOE President Robin Kulwin when she came up for vote. However, instead of throwing her and the Fried board’s reform efforts out the door, I believe he kept Robin on and allowed the “reform” process which her board set in motion — to continue. I haven’t discussed this with him directly, but knowing him, I suspect it was done both somewhat out of respect for the Superintendent’s position and efforts, and perhaps to see if the claims made would actually come to fruition.

    However, when it became clear later that the only results still being generated were a town still divided and that the roll-out attempted was just not going to work (let’s not argue why, just that it wasn’t going to happen) – it appears he acted at the next appointment round and her majority support on the Board was over. We all know the time line after. But as to your assertions over the new Superintendent Bolandi’s same unilateral actions, I don’t see any mass outpouring of public antagonism or opposition to his MO in the same way – do you? If fact, I see many people on all sides of the isle comment that they believe he’s doing a good job.

    Nonetheless, if say MKF starting making specific policy and public criticisms that made sense and if the new BOE and Superintendent did not directly address them openly in the same way that we saw under Penny – I would be one of the first to get into the corner of those demanding an open process again – to at least hear those issues at hand. I might not agree with the specifics, but giving everyone their due is mandatory for good government. That’s where we’ve always blown it in the past – bad process which then produces bad results.

    Other than some general sniping from the wings today and a few hard to follow rants from MKF mailings or email received (can’t remember the format) – nothing specific has gelled. But if you know of specifics the new Super isn’t addressing or taking care of business over – this should come out at the meetings again and in the press. Clearly the “testing” focus is done, but that doesn’t mean the underlying issues of improving teacher and student performance shouldn’t be fixed. Bolandi said give him a year to get his roll out in motion provided the town was willing to follow his initiatives identified. Well ok, that does seem to be the effort in motion.

    On Development: as to your comment I’m the Mayor’s “primary apologist”, I think you forget that for two years, while sitting the Planning Board (as the Environmental Commission’s rep), the Mayor and I were on opposite sides on many redevelopment issues. I directly opposed and helped stop his effort to add two more stories at the Valley and Bloom residential site, while appreciating the economics of that proposal to get the town more money and the Plaza build (an exchange concept which could be used elsewhere). If you remember, Mayor Jackson ran on a platform of significant building expansion in our train stations and other under-used sites. I didn’t support this and opposed the heights and bulk originally rolled out in the Master Plan draft. In fact, I don’t think the Mayor even wanted me on the Planning Board to start. Other Councilors supported my adaptive reuse and preservation positions.

    However, over time, after actually listening to community feedback, in particular from the V&B and Master Plan review, I believe Mayor Jackson came to see that he could have his cake and eat it too. That we could still get new ratables from needed redevelopment, but protecting what we had here and ensuring what was built new was kept in character to preserve our charm – was both an economic and a quality of life benefit. It’s one reason why people come to visit as a weekend and night-time destination stop. And it’s among a few key reasons why people move here and are prepared to pay high taxes and high housing costs.

    So I think the Mayor’s land use views evolved over time — in a good way – especially over bulk and heights. That’s one why he and this Council eventually supported creating the Watchung Commercial Historic District which took advocates years and many Councils to finally get passed. It’s why now, rather than rely on initial developer plans for what they want to build as we have always done in the past, the Mayor and Council authorized hiring an architectural consultant to work on the Lackawanna, Welmont and other proposed area redevelopment plans.

    Ira Smith, our consultant who makes all those presentations so we can give feedback on what’s being proposed, actually use to be the head of our Historic Preservation Commission. And it’s that same mindset shift I believe why the Mayor appointed me directly as his representative to the planning board, instead of just continuing to serve there himself.

  28. devonklein,

    Maybe. Maybe not. After all, he does have interim in his title and the right fit, as far as I know, still trumps pay – pay that is treated a transitional cost and is less than the Level 2 repairs to the GI/Edgemont. It is also a capped position.

    Well noted the 3 appointments next Spring which, I think, only works to my point because of how they will be selected. Last year’s appointments worked for several reasons. But, next year, that approach will be a point of contention & differentiation.

Comments are closed.