Following a contentious and hard-fought race, Robert Jackson was declared the mayor of Montclair just before 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, garnering nearly half the total of 8,024 votes cast in the nonpartisan local election.
Jackson, who led the Montclair 2012 slate, received 3,842 votes compared with 2,508 for Karen Turner, of the Real Progress Montclair slate, and 1,676 for Harvey Susswein, of the For Montclair slate.
It was nearly a clean sweep for Montclair 2012, with Robin Schlager, Sean Spiller, Bob Russo, and Rich McMahon all racking up wins. The only exception was in the first ward, where newcomer Bill Hurlock beat Councilor Rich Murnick, who was running for re-election on the Montclair 2012 slate.
Surrounded by throngs of noisy supporters at Egan's, Jackson said that the win was "extremely gratifying" and the result of a clear campaign message.
"People understand that we have to have new streams of revenue in this town," said Jackson, who had hammered away at the theme of drawing more development to town during his campaign.
Jackson declared the dawn of both "a new Montclair and a new future" for the town and then joked that he first had to get some sleep the next few days before doing anything.
Jackson was mayor of Montclair in 1987 and 1988, and previously served as an at-large councilor. He's a graduate of Montclair Kimberley Academy, a trustee of the Montclair Public Library, and is the founder and managing member of Lorterdan Properties, LLC, a diversified real estate development company.
In the first ward, Hurlock of the For Montclair slate won with 1,195 votes, beating out Murnick's 924 votes.
"Incumbents don't win in Montclair," said a charismatic Murnick, who perhaps was too associated by wary voters with the outgoing council.
In the second ward, Schlager won over Walter Springer and Selma Avdicevic. In the third ward, Spiller beat out Chris Swenson and Jeff Jacobson.
Springer said Tuesday night that, when he started his campaign, he had expected to hear good things from people related to their hopes for the town.
"What I didn't expect was how contentious the race became but I guess that's the way it's played by certain people," he said.
The two successful at-large candidates were McMahon and former mayor Russo. They beat out LeeAnn Carlson, Peter Zorich, Patricia Hurt, Kathryn Weller-Demming, and Tim Barr.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville ran unopposed, but still picked up 888 votes.
To see all the results, go here.
Russo said he hoped that the town's residents could put aside their differences now that the election is over.
"I've never seen a race with such complexity," he said, noting that tonight's results respresent a tremendous win for Montclair's progressive forces.
Tuesday's vote will bring in some familiar faces—Jackson, Schlager, and Russo all have held office before—while ushering out incumbents Murnick and Deputy Mayor Weller-Demming, who had been running for an at-large position.
Earlier on Tuesday night, Mayor Jerry Fried was particularly prescient when he predicted that Jackson would win with 40 percent of the vote, and that Turner and Susswein would get 35 percent and 25 percent of the vote, respectively.
"I don't think Susswein's campaign was that effective," said Fried. "It's just that the mechanics weren't good."
He noted that, when it came to Turner, he hadn't met a single person planning to vote for her.
Fried and other town officials, as well as some candidates, began gathering at the township council chambers just after 8 p.m. on Tuesday to await results. Also on hand were Real Progress Montclair campaign manager Ilmar Vanderer, Fifth District Freeholder Brendan Gill, Councilor Nick Lewis, businessman Martin Schwartz, developer Dick Grabowsky, Councilor Renee Baskerville, and Township Attorney Ira Karasick.
Vanderer said that he had sensed a "promising positiveness" in the air earlier in the day, leading him to hope for a Real Progress Montclair win.
Officials originally predicted that turnout would total about 7,500 to 8,000 out of 27,000 registered voters and, in the end, more than 8,000 people cast ballots.
Four years ago, some 7,149 people voted out of 25,000 registered voters, representing a turnout of nearly 30 percent. Fried won the role of mayor with 2,849 votes.
Following a day filled with more promises, more accusations, and another avalanche of press releases, many Montclair residents said they're relieved to finally reach the finish line of the weeks-long election season.
Pollworkers across town reported heavy turnouts and—if today's article in the New York Times was any indication—there was widespread attention being paid in all corners of Montclair to the election results even by those residents who didn't vote.
Fried noted that a good turnout would translate into about 8,000 votes, which is exactly what happened.
Over the weekend, longtime resident Michael O'Leary said he was voting for Turner and her Real Progress Montclair slate because—for him—everything boils down to taxes.
"If people can't afford to live here then none of the other issues really matters," he said, adding that he believes Real Progress Montclair is the slate best equipped to get the town's finances in order.
But other residents questioned around town said they favored mayoral candidate Harvey Susswein and his For Montclair slate simply because Susswein seemed to keep himself above the fray of negative campaigning.
"I like the fact that you didn't hear a lot of negative stuff from this guy but you heard a lot about his experience," one voter said.
And one man, Tom Shields, said he was voting for mayoral candidate Robert Jackson, who is leading the Montclair 2012 slate, because he believes Jackson has the experience—and the background in real estate development—that's needed to get Montclair on solid economic footing.
The different slates had made different plans to celebrate—or drown their sorrows—at various establishments around town tonight.
The Real Progress Montclair slate gathered at Tierney's, accompanied by Zorich's mother, actress Olympia Dukakis. The For Montclair slate collected at the Station restaurant in Upper Montclair. And Montclair 2012 candidates chowed down on wings and burgers at Egan's.
Meanwhile, here's what happened earlier on this very frenetic election day, in case you missed something.
—Real Progress Montclair continued to operate a well-oiled PR machine, sending out a flood of press releases including a notice emailed just before 3 p.m. filled with promises to impose a moratorium on non-essential debt and provide online access for easy-to-read budgets if elected.
—After Baristanet reported that mayoral candidate Jackson and his Montclair 2012 slate were using paid workers from Newark to distribute campaign materials, Larry Kopp, campaign manager for the Real Progress Montclair slate, told Montclair Patch that "the political Essex County machine has landed in Montclair. They have workers from Newark on the streets of Montclair doing campaign work." Kopp said that the Montclair 2012 slate also has posted campaign signs—illegally—on school property.
—A voter reported feeling intimidated at Mount Hebron Middle School this morning by election challengers hired by Hurlock and also the Real Progress Montclair slate.
—Third ward candidate Swenson said that today's New York Times article misstated the facts; but the New York Times reporter said she got it right.
—Save Our Schools Montclair released a Voters' Guide.
For those who haven't read it, the New York Times article focuses mostly on Turner.
The article cites a recent debate at which Turner was asked about scholarships that allow poor children to attend the Montclair Community Pre-K set up by the town 14 years ago.
The article says Turner praised it as the Rolls-Royce of programs but that she also wondered whether the town's money might have been better spent buying "20 families a Chevy."
The article goes on to say:
In this push for frugality is the national debate writ small: the town spent lavishly for years, going into debt to pay for things like shade trees and a $45 million LEED-certified school, and now residents are facing the bill.
Montclair is not the only place finding itself with a tax revolt as a result. But it ranks among the most unlikely.
“The most liberal town in America has a Tea Party faction,” marveled Cary Chevat, a local political activist.
Meanwhile, in election news from Monday, a dinnertime call to Montclair voters urged residents to make history by casting a vote for Turner so that she might become the first woman elected mayor in the town's history.
But residents emailed Montclair Patch to point out that Montclair had a woman mayor from 1980 to 1984 by the name of Mary Mochary. In 1980, Montclair switched from a five-member commission to a seven-member council. Mochary ran for the council and—out of 28 candidates in the nonpartisan municipal election—she received the most votes, leading to her selection as mayor.
In addition, the Montclair 2012 slate led by Jackson emailed out a press release on Monday that included an audio tape of Turner’s remarks at a Sept. 30, 2010 council meeting in which she questioned the need for the Montclair Public Library, arts programs and funding for shade trees. Listen to the audio here.
“The audio tape of Karen Turner in her own words should answer questions as to whether the Township Council Meeting minutes were taken out of context for use in the mailer,” a Montclair 2012 spokesperson said.
For her part, Turner and her Real Progress Montclair slate released a video interview (attached to this article) in which the candidate expresses her unequivocal support for libraries as well as other programs and institutions valued by the people of Montclair.
"I completely support the library," Turner said. "With the Junior League, I actually helped build a library at the Link School in Newark, so for people to say that I would not support a library is flabbergasting; its completely the opposite of what I'm about."
Turner's video was prepared over the weekend in anticipation of false representations of her service with Concerned Citizens of Montclair (CCM) and on the Township-apppointed Operating Budget Advisory Committee, (OBAC).
According to the RPM press release, Turner was nominated to OBAC by 4th Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville—one of the strongest library advocates on the current council.
"In the course of our discussions about town finances, our Committee discussed every aspect of the budget," Turner said. "At no time have I ever thought that we should close any libraries. In fact, it has been my belief from the beginning, that the size and scope of our library is of so much value that we should aggressively seek agreements with our neighbors to share our library and leverage regional consolidation fees."
Finally, the For Montclair slate remained fairly quiet. However, a supporter of the slate, Pegi Adam, expressed her disgust at the way certain campaigns had been run.
"I guess I'm naïve and expect local politics to be grassroots campaigns. But, I think it's really too bad that our community and community spirit is being exploited by two slates that are in the race to get elected at any cost (and according to published numbers, their costs are running pretty high). It's pretty obvious that this town council election is about everything BUT local community issues, because only Harvey Susswein's For Montclair slate has put any actual plans on their websites. No wonder people are confused. I've volunteered for town council campaigns as far back as Jim Bishop, in the 70s/early 80s, and I never heard of any campaign advisor being paid (although I have been told that Ted Mattox paid Henry deKoninck, but don't know that for a fact). Is this stuff the future of Montclair? If so, then let's not hold ourselves up as a model of community integrity. And, yes, I'm a supporter of Harvey Susswein and For Montclair."
Check Montclair Patch on Wednesday for more on Tuesday's election results and what they mean for the future of Montclair.