When it comes to local politics, the last 48 hours have been akin to the "Potpourri" category on TV's Jeopardy—a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
First, with polls opening in less than 24 hours, LeeAnn Carlson, running as an at-large candidate on the Real Progress Montclair slate, released a statement late Monday how how the math of Montclair's municipal budget just doesn't add up.
In part, it said:
"If this pattern of mismanagement is allowed to continue, the fabric and identity of our community is threatened to its very core. The next Mayor and Council must be motivated to fully understand and honestly address Montclair's debt, its cost of services, the uncertainty around property tax trends, and the need for more active Township governance. Only by doing so will critical public services and cherished institutions like our public magnet school system, our libraries, and pre-k program thrive. Voters must take this equation into the voting booth when making their decisions on Election Day, May 8th.
"With combined experience of 6+ years studying Montclair's municipal and Board of Education budgets, Real Progress Montclair is the team best equipped to fight the very real threats to Montclair's core values. We did this work and analysis not as elected officials but as part of Montclair's broad community of volunteers through our contributions to official Working Groups and Advisory Committees, and as leaders of a budget watchdog organization.
"Visit www.realprogressmontclair.com for more information on the candidate's positions on key issues, background, and its specific 90-day and six-month plans of action."
Second, Karen Turner, the mayoral candidate leading the Real Progress Montclair slate, has released a final letter to supporters and voters. It reads as follows:
In a few short days, the campaign dust will settle and we'll be neighbors again.
We'll see each other at the grocery store and the post office; at synagogue and at church; at PTA meetings and at our children's games and activities. When you see me, I want you to know who you are seeing.
I'm a woman who grew up in many different places. Because my father was in the military I didn't have roots anywhere until I came here. Now, Montclair is my home. I fell in love with this town when my husband first took me to Edgemont Park where he hit his first home run. I saw the architecture, I felt the energy, I enjoyed the shade of our magnificent trees. But, most of all, I loved the people. And while I've made so many close friends over the last 17 years, I've lost some too - forced to move because of the unsustainable rise in property taxes.
A few years ago, my husband suggested that we might have to think about moving as well. But, like any other smart woman, I had my own ideas. I decided to get involved and see what I could do to help stabilize taxes and restructure services rather than relying on cuts and new debt to balance the budget.
What I learned through Concerned Citizens of Montclair and later, through the Operating Budget Advisory Committee, was frightening. Although the Township is a $200 million organization, there is no process for fiscal planning beyond the current budget. No 3-year forecast of revenue projections; no 5-year plan for expenses; no 10-year benchmark for debt reduction.
Instead, as budget cycles come and go, our elected officials scramble to decide what so-called "amenities" they can cut and how high they can increase taxes. The result: library funding has been slashed, funding for Pre-K scholarships to those in need nearly eliminated, and community policing not even seriously discussed as a possible program. In the last few years, we also saw middle class, public employee layoffs for the first time in the Township's history, health care stripped from our classroom aides, and important institutions like the Arts Council completely defunded.
The truth is, none of this had to be. Past councils simply allowed it to happen by taking no initiative to prevent it. Stale thinking and an inordinate amount of time spent on distractions and pet projects kept the focus off our true priorities.
This has been no way to run a Township. And sadly, many of our family members, friends, and neighbors have agreed and they've voted with their feet. How can we truly maintain a community if the people are constantly leaving?
I have no interest in higher office. You won't see me cutting deals with outside interests to get elected. And you won't see me contort the truth about my opponents' records in order to win at all costs. But if I do earn the privilege of being Montclair's first popularly elected woman mayor, I promise to be true to Montclair.
We will get a handle on our town's finances no matter how hard it is and no matter how much resistance we face. As we do, you can be sure we will preserve the programs, institutions, and values that others on the incumbent slate and the status quo slate have jeopardized: the Library, early childhood education, the arts, economic development, open space, and so much more.
Friends, I harbor no animosity to my opponents. While their attacks have gone too far, I understand that campaigns can be hard fought. In the end, I believe my opponents want what's best for Montclair.
But, they've had their chances. In the next four years, Montclair is going to need hard work and a fresh perspective. It's time to elect candidates that will make Real Progress in order to preserve what we all love about Montclair in a more sustainable and thoughtful manner.
Third, and on a completely different note, when it comes to campaign signs, it seems a whole lot of people around Montclair are violating the town code. According to section 08-47, signs need to be 10 feet in and not placed between the curb and the sidewalk.
Fourth, Mayor Jerry Fried—campaign manager for Deputy Mayor Kathryn Weller-Demming, who's running for an at-large seat—said Saturday night that he's not sure whether or not he'll publicly endorse any candidates, adding that he's uncertain whether an endorsement would be helpful at this stage.
Fifth, both Councilor Rich Murnick, running in the 1st ward, and Robin Schlager, running in the 2nd ward, attended Saturday night's Filmmakers Party put on by the Montclair Film Festival. The candidates, running on the Montclair 2012 slate, made a point of talking to almost everyone there, and noted that they'd been campaigning hard all day.
Sixth, the Real Progress Montclair slate sent out all sorts of press releases and emails to voters over the weekend, including one on Sunday that made note of: "a 40 percent tax increase during [Robert] Jackson's first term in office" and "$100 million in new debt under Bob Russo during his four years as mayor."
Seventh, an email also went out Monday morning from the For Montclair slate.
It reads as follows:
"On May 8 Montclair will go to the polls to select a mayor and council. The choice is between three stark alternatives. Harvey Susswein and For Montclair is the only progressive team with broad appeal across the political spectrum. They have put forward a detailed and balanced plan of fiscal restraint and economic development along with respect for Montclair's traditions. Neither Robert Jackson's Montclair 2012 slate or Karen Turner's Real Progress Montclair slate of candidates have proposed realistic solutions to the issues facing Montclair. Vote for a progressive ticket that has the vision and experience to preserve Montclair’s values and get our fiscal house in order. Vote for Harvey Susswein and the For Montclair team on Line C:
Mayoral Candidate Harvey Susswein; At-Large Candidate Tim Barr; 1st Ward Candidate Bill Hurlock; 2nd Ward Candidate Walter Springer; 3rd Ward Candidate Jeff Jacobson
Regards, Harvey Susswein and the For Montclair team.
Eighth, and perhaps most interestingly, this Montclair Patch editor received a handful of emails over the weekend expressing concern over Michael Byrne's connection to the Real Progress Montclair campaign. Byrne was a field director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
"As a voter I’d like to know the answer to this—can they explain why they chose Michael Byrne as campaign manager with his connections to a right wing agenda that does not represent the values of most Montclair residents?" asked Montclair resident Emily Grand.
Patch asked the RPM campaign about this. The campaign's response, written by Larry Kopp, co-chair and campaign director for RPM, is as follows:
"I am running this campaign and its day-to-day operations. I have been the co-chair of RPM with Sue Weintraub and the campaign manager since day one. This role was announced at our launch. I am also running the GOTV operation. I am a seasoned Democratic political consultant with years of experience working on national and statewide campaigns and progressive causes. My role has been reported in the media previously.
"Mike Byrnes and Ilmar Vanderer are our only paid part time volunteers on the campaign who work under my direction. We have many bright citizens who are also helping with our campaign operation at the same level including Dede Horotwitz, Lynn Selassie, Carol Ewertson, Linda Bowers, Jane Day, Sue McLaughlin, and dozens of others from all corners of Montclair. They all report to me and to Sue.
"Ironically, Mike was asked by both [Robert] Jackson and [Harvey] Susswein to work on their slates as a paid volunteer. Mike was born and raised in Montclair. He attended Montclair High School. He has served in a non-partisan capacity for the last four years on the Shared Services Task Force, 4th of July Parade Committee, the Mayor's School Board Advisory Committee and the Montclair Election Review Commission.
"Our opponents are trying to tarnish Mike and make this a campaign issue. As you know this race is non-partisan and the Real Progress Montclair slate is made up of two Democrats and two Independents. Other slates are made up of ex-mayors and registered Republicans.
"Voters care only about our platform and what we are going to do if our team is elected. RPM's goal is to put Montclair on better footing for a sustainable future while preserving the character and valued programs we all know and love about this great town."