Lakewood, NJ – Since veteran Township Committeeman Robert Singer last month announced he won’t seek re-election, two candidates have battled to fill the void. One is a political novice counting on the nationwide anti-establishment wave to bring him a win. The other is a former mayor hoping voters still prefer experience over fresh blood.Isaac Akerman, a 34-year-old loan officer, was an Independent candidate who switched to the Republican ticket after Singer, also a state senator, bowed out of the race, citing the governor’s position against dual offices.
Marta Harrison, 54, is an entrenched county Democratic Party leader and two-term local committeewoman who came out of a seven-year retirement from public office.
Both have held fundraisers netting $8,000 to $10,000. And both agree on several issues. For example, they see revenue possibilities in contracting out public works services to other towns. And both harp on reining in spending through electronic record keeping and cost cuts.
Harrison, a manager of a motor-vehicle agency in Toms River, applauded the Republican-led committee for keeping a zero-percent tax increase in the municipal budget this year.
“In this economy, we can’t afford the same level of services we had four or five years ago,” she said.
When asked if a zero tax increase was crucial for the future even if it meant further downsizing and possible layoffs, Akerman said, “Obviously, we can’t lay off everywhere – trash collection has to happen – but, yes I do agree.”
On development, the consensus among the candidates is that a leash needs to be put on random sprawl. In an obvious gesture to the retired constituents, Akerman said in an interview with a resident in an adult community: “It becomes a quality of life issue when seniors have made a major purchase of their retirement home, and then schools begin to appear all around then.”
Harrison stressed the need for patterned building.
“If people are in a single-family neighborhood, they have a right to see similar neighborhoods next door,” she said. “And if something different is built, there needs to be good buffers between them.”
She added: “Not any one type of development is bad, but maybe it’s not the right location.”
The challengers differ, however, on how to deal with a declining police force and a spike in certain crimes. Akerman wants to expand the role of volunteer neighborhood watch patrols so officers can focus more on high-level investigations. Harrison sees an increased dependence on the residents as a bad idea. Instead, she is pushing for “all or most uniformed police deployed outside the building,” leaving much of the administrative work to civilians.
Akerman has the endorsement of the Vaad of Lakewood. Yet seniors, which also represent a large and impressively united voting bloc, could be split on which candidate to support.
“I have no idea which way the residents are leaning,” said Lawrence Avrin, 68, who held a candidates debate on Oct. 14 for the residents of his adult community, Enclaves at the Fairways.
Yet Bill Hobday, a community leader at another retiree development, predicted Akerman would win the senior vote.
“Some are emotionally attached to her, but others are afraid of her spending habits” in the past, he said of Harrison. “Many are looking for some fresh blood and even-handedness, and I do believe Akerman has those attributes.”