2014-03-20 / Front Page
Community activist makes run for mayor
Grant, who has served the school board since 1998, is currently the only challenger running against Schneider, who is seeking his sixth term as mayor.
“I want to be mayor of Long Branch to provide fair, professional, compassionate and responsive governance for all Long Branch people,” Grant said in an interview on March 14. “My record of serving all Long Branch residents is extensive and longstanding for all my life in Long Branch.”
Grant, who ran unsuccessfully against Schneider in 2002, said if elected his state connections would help him be an effective mayor of the county’s largest city.
“One of the reasons I’m running is I have a statewide reach because I’ve worked so hard with DEP [state Department of Environmental Protection], with the state [Department of Health and Senior Services], with the Secretary of State,” he said.
Grant is founder and director of the Concerned Citizens of Long Branch, a community organization formed to oversee the remediation of the 17-acre site of the former coal gasification plant on Long Branch Avenue.
Grant also currently serves as chairman of the state Task Force on Student Achievement, a committee formed by the New Jersey School Boards Association and charged with identifying educational practices that would help close the academic achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students.
Grant said he was persuaded to run after speaking with members of the community.
“We need a responsive government,” he said. “There is a lot of dissatisfaction among the citizens, they’ve talked to me and they’ve urged me to run.
“I will continue to work to make Long Branch better.”
During Grant’s tenure on the Board of Education, the Long Branch Public School District, a former Abbott District funded at a higher rate by the state, has built several new schools, including the Gregory School, Long Branch High School, Long Branch Middle School, Amerigo A. Anastasia School and the George L. Catrambone Elementary School, which is currently under construction.
While proud of the new schools in the city, Grant said the district’s biggest accomplishment in recent years is the increased college acceptance rates for district students.
“Our acceptance to college rate,” he said, “is over 90 percent now.”
Grant moved to Long Branch in 1966 and later served with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He said the city was a different place in the 1960s, when community ties were stronger.
“When I came here, it was like a family, that’s why
I got involved in it,” he said. “Now there are so many different pockets, we no longer feel like a community, that’s why I work so hard in all those programs.”
Some of the areas Grant said he has seen change the most since he came to the city are lower Broadway and the oceanfront.
“When I came here, my wife would walk with our kids down to Broadway and do all our shopping,” he said. “We had the beach amusements, and now there are no amusements for the kids.”
Many of the beach amusements Grant said were located on the pier, which was destroyed by a fire in 1989.
Plans are currently being discussed for a $100 million pier and ferry terminals.
According to Grant, City Council meetings are often contentious, and in recent years there has been strict enforcement of the five-minute rule for public comment.
If elected, he said he would relax the five-minute rule.
“I’m for business, I’m not here to play,” he said. “My time is valuable, but if you are saying something that could help the city, I’ll sit there for 10, 15 minutes.”
Grant said he is willing to work hard as mayor, as evidenced by his advocacy on behalf of the community.
“I’m not afraid to work, my wife has worked as hard as I have in the community,” he said. “I want a very responsive and honest government in Long Branch.”
In addition to Grant and Schneider, resident Rich James returned signed petitions supporting his run for mayor. However, due to discrepancies regarding the addresses listed on the petitions, James was disqualified as a candidate for mayor. He said last week he has not decided whether to run as a write-in candidate.
In the race for City Council seats, resident David Pizzo and school district employee Cynthia Branch will challenge current council members Mary Jane Celli, Michael Siranni, Joy Bastelli, Kathleen Billings and John Pallone.
Long Branch is governed under the Faulkner Act, meaning candidates are not affiliated with a particular political party.