Election Day in Lakewood contained no surprises, returning all incumbents on the ballot to their seats and electing the few favored newcomers who stepped up to fill some empty ones.
New Jersey was one of two states to pick new governors on Tuesday. Following consistent domination in the polls, Democrat Phil Murphy cruised to a landslide victory. Elected officials from Lakewood expressed optimism that the new administration would address some of the town’s pressing needs, chiefly school funding and infrastructure improvements.
State Senator Robert Singer (R-Ocean), who has represented the township since 1993, was one of those who won re-election, besting Democrat Amy Cores by a tally of 10,763 to 5,978. He told Hamodia that finding a permanent solution to the Lakewood School District’s perennial financial woes was his “number one” priority.
“This can’t go on as a problem every single year that we have problems with busing and funding basic pubic school education,” he said.
Lakewood’s officials have long claimed that the district’s deficit, which has now exceeded $15 million, is due largely to inequities in the state’s funding formula which, for several years, had not adjusted for the town’s growing public school population. In addition, the fact that the budget must cover busing, special education and a smattering of other services for the far larger private school community, they claim, makes the formula inadequate to properly fund the town’s educational needs.
Busing was temporarily secured last year by legislation that created a three-year pilot program that transfers funds for non-public school transportation to a private consortium for management. A gap in funding for public school students was filled by the township. Amid the threat of heavy layoffs and programming cuts to the public schools, the state gave the district an $8.5 million loan.
Sen. Singer was optimistic that the legislature and Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who campaigned on making broad changes to the formula state-wide, would address the issue.
“It might take some combination of fixing the formula and some sort of carve out, but I’ve had conversations with the Senate president about it, and I think we are headed in that direction,” he said.
The senator added that he had gotten “positive” signals from state agencies regarding funding for plans to reduce congestion, chiefly regarding Route 9 South.
“Ocean and Monmouth counties, and southern Jersey in general, have gotten shortchanged on transportation … we’ve gotten assurances from the leadership that we will be starting renovations by 2019 and start to bring the area up to where the rest of the state is,” he said.
Rounding out the Republican victory for state representation were Assemblyman Sean Kean and Assemblyman Ned Thomson, who replaced David Rible — who stepped down a few months ago to serve as the New Jersey director for Alcoholic Beverage Control. They both beat out their competitors by wide margins. Ocean County has been heavily Republican for many years.
On the county level, Joseph Vicari (R), the chairman of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, beat out Democrat Helen Cruz by 84,762 votes to 58,544. He has served on the board, which governs Ocean County, since 1981.
For township committee, long-time members Mayor Ray Coles (D) and Mike D’Elia (R) both easily won re-election over challengers Michael Berman (R) and Moshe Raitzik (D). Mayor Coles won 6,414 votes and Mr. D’Elia 7,760, while Mr. Berman polled 4,517 and Mr. Raitzik 2,915
Mayor Coles told Hamodia that he hoped to use his new term to “finish off” promises made in the previous one, also pointing to hopes for an improved infrastructure, including “widening streets, getting some new streets, and fixing key intersections.”
He, too, expressed optimism that Governor-elect Murphy would be a helpful partner in addressing the township’s challenges.
“We’re very hopeful that as governor, Phil Murphy will address our biggest problems; he’s aware of the issues and we are hopeful he will help us find long-term solutions,” he said.
While he will remain on the township committee, its five members will select a new mayor in January. The mayor’s seat is a year-long position that is voted on by the committee, and does not wield any more official power than other members.
Ada Gonzalez, Bentzion Treisser and Thea Jackson won their bids to serve three-year terms on Lakewood’s Board of Education, as well as current president, Moshe Bender and Chanania Nakdimen, who will serve single-year terms.
Mr. Bender assumed the presidency last spring after then-president Barry Iann resigned his position on the board. Among the priorities he hopes to work on in the coming term are developing a plan to further improve academic achievement for public school children, maintain busing after the three -ear pilot program approved in 2016 runs out, and further improving teacher morale.
Commenting specifically on the busing issue, he told Hamodia, “We still have a while of it helping us, but it’s important that we work to find a permanent solution now so we do not go back to having to save courtesy busing every year.”