This is not against Amy A. Mallet, Monmouth ‘s Democratic freeholder-elect, the underdog who beat out Republican John P. Curley by a razor-thin margin of about 350 votes in last month’s historic and nerve-wracking general election that gave her party control of county government for the first time in 23 years.
Mallet waged a strong political campaign. She held her own under some vicious personal attacks by the GOP. Indications are that she will be an active participant in honest and responsible Board of Freeholders-run decision-making So there are no immediate problems there.
But this also is about a lament that Curley, a former Red Bank councilman, was defeated at the polls. He was the first breath of clean, fresh air in the county Republican freeholder candidate ranks in a long time. He ran an election battle that was refreshing and forthright. He was not afraid to tackle ethical issues. . He spoke his mind about GOP insiders, past and present.
Republican leaders didn’t know quite how to handle him. He often was called a “loose cannon”—but some partisan party people found it more advantageous to support him than a Democrat.
Still, it was good to see Curley, another Republican potential officeholder coming to the forefront among the super-special lines of state Sen. Jennifer Beck of the 12th District and Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin of the 13th District.. Handlin is a former freeholder deputy director who started the county board on a path of much-needed ethical and fiscal reform after the corruption days under the late former Republican Freeholder Director Harry Larrison, Jr. Many Republicans don’t like to talk about those scandal-ridden times and treat them as if they never happened.
Curley said he likes being mentioned in the same company as Beck and Handlin, whom he regards as “two progressive legislators” And the encouraging news today is that Curley is expected to be a freeholder candidate again next year. “I loved every minute” of the campaigning, he said , “and would certainly enjoy doing it again.” . He added: “I continue to stay in contact with elected officials throughout Monmouth in an effort to keep my fingers on the pulse rate of our citizens.” He’s too good to lose.
Things can change in the whole selection process for both parties between now and November--but it appears that Curley coiuld be up against an experienced and formidable foe in incumbent Freeholder barbara mcMorrow. Reports indicate the board's now Democratic majority will name her as director next month to replace Lillian G. Burry.
Curley, who said, “I do not bend to the whims of others,” said he was scolded privately during the campaign by Freeholder Deputy Director Robert D. Clifton and outgoing Freeholder William C. Barham, both Republicans, after he came out publicly in favor of giving a new name to Brookdale Community College’s tarnished Larrison Hall, a county monument to the longtime freeholder director charged in 2005 by the FBI with accepting bribes. He died before the case went to trial. Then U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie led the charge that brought the corruption arrest of 11 officials in the county.
“They told me taking that stand would cost me 500 votes,” Curley stated. And, as it turned out, they may have been right . But that didn’t stop Curley. So you have to admire the guy. He said he “never was concerned about an admonishment, continuing: “Be true to yourself and your beliefs and you never have to look over your shoulder.”
Clifton, through a spokesman, said he never discussed Larrison Hall with Curley. Barham hasn’t been heard from. Curley stands by his story. Interestingly, Beck and Handlin took stands identical to Curley on the new name for Larrison Hall issue.
Curley also took on another heavy-hitter in Malcolm V. Carton, chief county counsel and a former Larrison lieutenant and crony. Curley got the ball rolling to reduce the hourly rate for couny attorneys and to prevent them from being hired as fulltime employees. “This practice costs too much money long-term,” Curley said. And he won’t stop at just hiring a handful. “I believe in shrinking the size of government and not creating more pensioners.” He wants a term limit on Carton’s position. That’s tough talk—but it is in the best interests of taxpayers.
So if Curley runs again for freeholder, it will add to the excitement of next November’s election in Monmouth County. Just think—Christie the reformer might be the Republican candidate for governor on the same ticket with Beck seeking to run for lieutenant governor. And the icing on the cake: Handlin will seek Assembly re-election.
While the economy will continue to be the main issue, with that potent GOP political lineup, voters can be sure that the ravages of corruption that laid this county low in disgrace not too many years ago will not be forgotten and discussed openly. And the symbol of those dark days – an academic building on the county’s community college campus no less—will get another name to herald a new ethical era for the county and the state.
(Arthur Z. Kamin, Fair Haven, is an independent journalist who has taught English and journalism as a Brookdale adjunct instructor.)