Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dems Credit Obama's Coattails

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dems Credit Obama's Coattails

Article excerpt

NEW MILFORD -- Democrats who seized the majority on the Borough Council in last week's election credited President Obama and Sen. Bob Menendez, saying the sheer presence of the two on the ballot helped create a larger turnout and allowed Democrats to defeat their Republican opponents.

Republican Council President Howard Berner and his running mate, Peter Rebsch -- a former councilman who sits on the borough's zoning board -- were defeated by incumbent Democrat Austin Ashley and running mate Michael Putrino. Berner earned 2,437 votes, Rebsch 2,385; Ashley got 2,775 votes, Putrino 2,958.

It is unclear what role New Milford's most pressing local issue - - how to manage the 16-acre United Water property, where the S. Hekemian Group is seeking to build a massive, mixed-use development - - played in the election.

"I think the local aspect this year was a big player, but running in a presidential [election] year the president has a huge impact on who comes out to vote," Ashley said. "I'd like to take credit for the turnout, but I don't think it was me. It helped tremendously to have Obama and Menendez and the freeholders on the ballot."

Berner was on the council in early 2011, when the governing body had a narrow window in which to purchase the United Water property for an estimated $8 million. A vote was never taken. In recent months, many residents have expressed frustration with the council and fear that Hekemian's plans would dramatically reshape the town.

In its application now before the zoning board, Hekemian seeks to build a 70,500-square-foot supermarket, a 221-unit apartment complex -- including 40 affordable housing units -- a bank and hundreds of parking spaces at the vacant, 14-acre site on the Hackensack River.

Ashley, who is also assistant borough administrator in Palisades Park, was elected to a one-year term last November. …

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