MontClairVoyant: Will Spiller Rule the Montclair Roost After Big Money Boost?

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Sean Spiller was leading Renee Baskerville for mayor by a small margin — 5,445 to 5,250 — when votes were certified by the county on May 18. Are you glad Dr. Baskerville is challenging the all-mail-ballot results?

Sincerely,

Contested Contest

Yes! Every vote that should’ve been counted wasn’t counted, because many ballots were rejected for alleged signature issues and other ballots postmarked by May 12 may not have arrived by May 14’s deadline because of pandemic-caused postal delays. Also, “American Idol” votes were missing from 2008.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
“It ain’t over till it’s over,” said Montclair’s late Yogi Berra, not referencing Judy Garland’s rainbow. What might we have seen in the Municipal Building if Councilman Spiller hadn’t hugely outspent Councilwoman Baskerville, who you endorsed?

Sincerely,
Bereavement Gap

A new mayoral nameplate with 16 rather than 11 letters, giving engravers more work during this challenging economic time.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Isn’t it aggravating that the almighty dollar might’ve had such a big impact on a municipal election?

Sincerely,
Rose on Cash

It is. Heck, the weight of all those Spiller mailers and lawn signs lowered Montclair’s ground level so much that basements became attics, making life difficult for PSE&G repair people trying to find your furnace.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
What do Spiller’s campaign, author John Dos Passos, and the band Rush have in common?

Sincerely,
Zanna Du

“The Big Money.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
But Spiller, a public-school teacher and New Jersey Education Association vice president, got lots of his campaign funds from teacher-union sources. Isn’t that a good thing given that you greatly admire public-school teachers and support their unions?

Sincerely,
Upbeat on Union Street

Noted, but Dr. Baskerville is also a strong backer of public education and has other mayoral positives. Now the band (not the school) Renaissance may have to change its “Trip to the Fair” song to “Trip to the Unfair,” which complicates royalties.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Montclair’s mayor appoints Board of Education members and has a say regarding the Board of School Estimate. So would Spiller’s union background be a conflict of interest given that he could indirectly have an impact on future negotiations with the Montclair Education Association?

Sincerely,
To Teach, His Own

Kind of awkward, but it’s also awkward to have a mayor who’s not a fan of organized labor — as has happened in some past instances. Case in point: Montclair’s former mayor Buster Ofyoonyins.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Not remembering him. Despite some uncounted ballots, there was a much larger voter turnout than usual — helped by the election’s all-mail nature. Comment?

Sincerely,
The Mail Prerogative

“So Many Envelopes” would make a great name for a rock band. On second thought, NOT a great name for a rock band. An okay name, sure, but not great. In fact, barely okay. Less than okay. Actually, an awful —

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Shut up! Anyway, I feel Dr. Baskerville would do a great job as mayor and Spiller would do okay when either takes office on July 1. But won’t the winner have a tough job dealing with the pandemic’s medical and financial fallout in Montclair?

Sincerely,
Covid the Terrible

Yes. Tragically, there were 406 coronavirus cases and 47 deaths among Montclair’s 39,000 residents as of May 19, and who knows what our town’s municipal and school budgets will look like. Many a resident’s hair hasn’t been cut, but state aid might be.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Also, Montclair’s tax collections will undoubtedly drop due to the ripples of high unemployment. It would help if the federal government gave much more relief money to states, but most Republican politicians ghoulishly oppose that.

Sincerely,
Right-Wing Rancor

Even as the GOP loves to bail out giant corporations left and right. (Given the conservative politics of corporate execs, mostly right.)

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
In other news, the Board of Education announced May 18 that it has a new president (Latifah Jannah) and a new vice president (Priscilla Church). Are “good luck,” “best wishes,” and “congratulations” in order?

Sincerely,
John Kudos Passos

Yes, they are in order, but not in alphabetical order.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Any final words on Montclair’s election?

Sincerely,
Line Up a Last Lament

Over the years, Dr. Baskerville has been much more responsive than her opponent to residents who contacted her — whether from her own 4th Ward or elsewhere. So, if she doesn’t win the mayoralty, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” would make a depressing name for a rock band.

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

    Couldn’t Rene Baskerville raise money too? Plenty more people in Montclair could have contributed to her campaign. Not sure why you make the point she was somehow victimized by being outspent. No one stopped her from getting more money from people, PACS or even wacs.

    And you say she’s been much more responsive to residents. So why didn’t she score much much higher with votes. Which were overall at a much better turnout than in the past.

    Responsiveness v. marketing mailing fluff?

    Something about your logic is not holding up here.

  2. Thank you for the comment, therealworld. I hear what you’re saying.

    I haven’t spoken with Dr. Baskerville, so I can only guess why her campaign didn’t raise more money. One guess is that municipal campaigns in Montclair aren’t typically funded at the level of Sean Spiller’s, so perhaps Dr. Baskerville didn’t initially feel she needed to raise thousands and thousands – before it became too late to do so. And/or maybe she doesn’t believe in overspending on a municipal campaign, or in PAC-type contributions. Also, perhaps she didn’t want to ask individuals for money during a pandemic time when many are struggling; as a matter of fact, I read that Dr. Baskerville herself gave away some potential campaign money to a local food bank.

    Yet despite being outspent by an 8-9-time margin in the mayoral campaign, she received nearly as many votes as Spiller — a major accomplishment.

    It’s unfortunate that some voters may have been swayed by glossy marketing. That kind of marketing can work when people don’t have the time or inclination to dig deeper into the differences between candidates.

  3. Maybe. Maybe once the voters evaluated their special interests many younger gen voters were ready to move on from the Baby Boomer choices. This was overdue and this was one of the few obvious contrasts between the Mayoral candidates.

    It indicates an implicit acceptance by the younger gen of their leadership role and they can stop blaming their parents as a crutch.

  4. FYI, in the 2018 national mid-term elections, 1.4% of all mail-in ballots were ‘spoiled’ (not counted) for various reasons. Signature mismatches were one of several that contributed to this ballot spoilage rate. I’m pretty confident Montclair, historically, has been equal or less than this figure. The Township Clerk can easily provide the historical figures.

    In Montclair’s 2020 muni election, with almost 11,000 mayoral mail-in ballots submitted, 2.0% of these mail-in ballots were spoiled…just for signature defects. This 2.0% is not the overall spoilage rate. The overall rate is higher. The Municipal Clerk can also provide these numbers, broken down by reason, ward, etc.

    If you care, ask her or submit an OPRA request.

  5. Thank you, Frank. I hadn’t thought of the generational angle; Sean Spiller being younger than Dr. Baskerville might have been among the factors behind his (narrow) lead in the race.

    Still, Spiller is not exactly an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-type younger leader. His views and record are not more liberal than Dr. Baskerville’s, and Spiller had the lion’s share of “establishment” backing — including Mayor Jackson and three current (not young) Township Council members on his slate.

    As for signature mismatches, I think the Montclair race was small enough where voters could have been contacted to resolve those mismatches before the results were certified. I’m sure the mismatches were virtually all accidental — no fraud intended.

  6. True, but the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-type constituency here – excluding the talkers – is very, very small number that walk the talk & actually vote. And in all fairnesss, many of the AOC-types that voted this time were voting with their wallets. Not exactly a sea change movement of putting someone into office for a very specific, target group payback.

    I just love the hypocrisy. Vote me in and I’ll take other taxpayer’s money – while the pandemic has people preoccupied – and put it in your wallets. It beats reading a book.

  7. And you may recall NY Declared a State of Emergency 3/7 and NJ on 3/9 with the purpose of both to limit the spread of COVID-19.

    Councilor Baskerville is a medical doctor that also teaches medical students. Doctor Baskerville vote on 3/10 to introduce this major rent control regulation knowing full well the implications of the in-the-community highly infectious disease. Is that liberalism or just taking liberties?

    I have a hard time drawing any other distinctions between them aside from their age difference and gender. That vote was not Montclair’s finest hour. To the contrary. It horrified me.

  8. Thank you for the comments, Frank.

    People can of course think about/do more than one thing at a time — which in that part of March meant one could have great concern about the terrible pandemic and also introduce rent regulation that had been discussed/negotiated for a year or so.

    Renee Baskerville and Sean Spiller certainly are ideologically closer than many political opponents. But I see some differences in addition to age and gender. Two examples: I feel Dr. Baskerville has been more responsive than Spiller over the years to constituents. (Perhaps Spiller didn’t have quite as much Council-related time because of his teaching and union responsibilities, though of course Dr. Baskerville is also busy as a physician.) And I think the mayoralty would’ve been Dr. Baskerville’s final office-holding stop while I’m guessing Spiller has higher political aspirations in the future.

  9. Dave,

    Do you receive me as someone that follows the Council public activities closely for some time now?

    Do you think I read more on the topic than an average property owner?

    Do you think I visit the Township web site and likely download pretty much everything they post regarding subcommittees, recaps, action plans, proposals, attendance lists, public comment?

    And then you wonder how the developers get their needs address in these very same back rooms? I’m sure the rent control people and the developers passed many times in that hallway.

    I’m fine with the year-long characteristic lack of transparency and then the uncharacteristic Bill Hurlock warp speed approval. I’ve come to accept the lack of integrity of this Council’s members. I still bristle at the Township liberal’s mind meld with MAGA in embracing the ends justifying the means.

    I’m just waiting for the MHS Class of 2020 to figure it out. They won’t now, but what a hoot it would be to see it happen a couple of decades (& few life experiences) down the road. Alas, this thought will have to suffice.

  10. Frank, you do keep impressively close track of what goes on in town. And, yes, at least a couple of those rent-regulation votes may have been made with the election in mind. But I’m still glad the (admittedly imperfect) measure passed. Of course, it is now delayed and who knows whether it will stick. 🙁

  11. Once again our Council did a major league screwup that will once again be decided in the courts. I’m losing count. Seriously.

    It started with Lackawanna in 2012. Then the Council (with 3 lawyers on the dais) voted to put Spiller on the Board if School Estimate(s). And it just goes on from there.

    My point is the residents of Montclair are the losers. Some will lose time. All will lose, period. Does it really matter who is Mayor in the big picture. It only matters on the quid pro quo level.

  12. Sort of like a WPA program for judges and attorneys? 🙂

    Seriously, Frank, I also don’t like seeing things end up in court and Montclair’s legal expenses being ultimately funded by Montclair taxpayers. But decisions that might result in lawsuits need to be risked sometimes; heck, I wish town officials would push back harder against some development (such as the deeply flawed Lackawanna Plaza redo) to the point of risking legal action by developers.

  13. Wouldn’t it have been nice if there was a supermarket at Lackawanna during the past few months? Dont people in this area of town deserve a good quality place to shop. Cant we get people talking about a solution that works for the developer and the Town? Common sense should prevail. The litigation is such a waste of time and resources.
    There is a way to make this work. Lets see some leadership.

  14. Thank you for the comment, professor wagstaff. I hear your frustration.

    I would love to see a supermarket at Lackawanna Plaza, and wish there had been a replacement for the Pathmark there soon after it closed. My problems with the proposed Lackawanna redo are that the history of the old train station wasn’t respected enough in the preservation-challenged plans, there were too many apartments (pricey, of course) planned, not enough open space, etc. Lackawanna is such a gateway site for Montclair that the developers should have accepted somewhat less profit and made it a beautiful redevelopment.

    Of course, there is the Lidl supermarket planned. Small and somewhat inadequate, but better than no supermarket.

  15. Agree. I wrote an editorial here, 18 months ago in November 2018, to do exactly what you suggest. What happened you ask?

    I got a call from the Montclair Township Planner. That was a fun call. She told me that wasn’t going to happen and worse.

    Then, 3 months later, Councilor Schlager recuses herself…for what she did 9 months previously.

    You don’t understand professor. The Council wants development. The developers want development. A majority of the town wants development. Who exactly is compelled to explore a middle ground solution absent litigation?

    It’s like Arkansas. Like Point Pleasant. The majority want their states to be opened up. They need the income. This is just about money and power…and who has it.

    Like the sentiment of your post.

  16. Frank, you’re right that the township planner wants development (and is fine with “upscale” overdevelopment) and most of the Township Council wants development (and is fine with “upscale” overdevelopment). Where we disagree, and have disagreed before, is that the majority of the town wants this kind of development. Yes, some development, but not the too-dense, too-gentrification-y, not-very-aesthetic kind we’re getting. A good number of people want all that; I just don’t think it’s a majority.

    But the election results do make me wonder. I’m curious what would have happened if Dr. Baskerville and her slate had taken a stronger stance against the type of development Montclair has been getting. As it stood, at least part of Sean Spiller’s slate had an okay-with-the-kind-of-development-we’re-getting record, while Dr. Baskerville’s slate didn’t really pound that issue one way or another.

  17. Good points, but the slate didn’t have a chance if they had…and to my point about who secretly supports development ‘not in their back yard’. The Bloomfield Avenue corridor is a throwaway for most residents. Always has been. One of the reasons we concentrated affordable housing there.

    The Spiller slate incumbents ran on their record.
    The 3rd Ward race was a predictable & uninspiring coattail outcome.
    Yacobellis was the new shiny ball, diversity candidate.

    The big problem this incoming group will have is the same as the last 3…ethics. However, they will go to school on the Jackson councils and, unlike them, will not offer up any revisions to the ethics ordinances. I predict they will introduce a redevelopment plan within 12 months.

  18. “She’s busy as a physician” She’s works for East orange school district so maybe not that busy.

  19. Frank, you’re right that a number of people are undoubtedly less concerned with downtown overdevelopment than with overdevelopment elsewhere in Montclair. That was illustrated by the nixing, after plenty of pushback, of a master plan change that would’ve allowed for some relatively modest overbuilding in the Upper Montclair Business District area. (This was in or around 2013, if I’m remembering correctly.)

  20. Dave,

    Your recollection is a fair recap of what happened.

    I believe NJ requires each municipality to Re-examine their Master Plan’s main Land Use section every 6 years. The purpose is straight-forward – what, if anything has changed and do we want to revise our policy positions. Since our Master Plan was published in 2015, I would expect Montclair needs to issue a Re-examination Report next year. This process will answer many of your questions if anything has changed about land use policy.

    PS: The Planning Board has a Master Plan Subcommittee but I don’t know which PB members serve on it.

  21. Thank you, Frank, for another informative comment. I didn’t know that a Master Plan reexamination report was an every-six-year thing. The next one may have a “horse has already left the barn” feel to it, given that so much new development has happened or begun in recent years.

  22. The horses haven’t left yet at Watchung Plaza neighborhood. I’m going to suggest the Township move the U Mtc Village parking deck idea to Watchung Plaza. This will alleviate congestion in UM and make Watchung a true, first class transit hub for Central Montclair and surrounding towns. We can haven an elevator, bicycle storage, etc., etc. What do you think?

  23. Frank, not sure if your Watchung Plaza idea is tongue-in-cheek or serious. Either way, interesting comment. 🙂 WP already has too weird a traffic flow and too much congestion to add a parking deck, etc. — and that 11-apartment building under construction on Park Street will not help matters. But, speaking of horses, I do like those metal hitching posts that have been on nearby Fairfield Street for decades and decades. 🙂

  24. One day they will “fix” the intersection w/ a traffic light. The Fairfield Lot, w/ its access drives, is perfect for a deck. When Team Up Montclair prevails in making the Watchung School lot regulation size for HS & post-HS-age sports; and Bike/(No Walk)Montclair prevails with bike lanes on N Fullerton Av; the off-street lot will be filled starting at 10am Saturdays/Sundays. The additional weekday commuter income would pay for the bond service cost of the bike lanes…with a little left over.

  25. Another traffic light would certainly help Watchung Plaza, Frank!

    Personally, I feel Montclair has enough (too many) parking decks that already exist or are coming. I realize downtown has had a disproportionate share of development (which I’ve criticized endlessly), but that doesn’t mean Watchung Plaza should be made way more dense, too.

  26. At some point we have to just let go of the idea of maintaining a high community taste level. The historic design expertise we hire is not helping. Yes, we have another key building (this time in 224 Lorraine in Upper Montclair) getting the tacky treatment by the HPC and its consultant. Technically, it is a Planning Board application, but the HPC gets to give their bad advice…which the PB will have to accept.

    I can only hope Mayor Spiller starts swapping this group out ASAP. That is another land use power the Mayor has exclusively – appointments to the HPC. Mr Spiller also has a seat on the Planning Board or can designate his representative.

    I’m retreating to my Upper Montclair Village borders. I’ll leave Watchung Plaza to the French to defend along the ramparts of Essex Way. I think we both agree everything South is lost.

  27. Under a Spiller mayoralty choosing HPC members, HPC might stand for High Plump Construction rather than Historic Preservation Commission.

    Ha, Frank! (The retreat and defend future you see for Watchung Plaza.) My wife is a French prof and we live near WP, so she might defend WP. Plus Bonjour Montclair is there…

  28. Great. If she is, shall we say, flexible in the company she keeps, the Brit’s outpost, the Pie Store, can leverage their position on the wrong side of the tracks to protect her flank – with their cheddar scones and cream choices galore.

  29. LOL! That’s funny, Frank — the French and British, not always historical allies, jointly defending Watchung Plaza! Making that scenario complete: Humphrey Bogart saying, “We’ll always have Sunrise Bagels.”