Home>Campaigns>Two slates duke it out in Red Bank’s first nonpartisan local election

Tim Hogan's Red Bank Together slate (top) and Mayor Billy Portman's Red Bank's Ready slate (bottom). (Photos: Red Bank Together and Red Bank's Ready).

Two slates duke it out in Red Bank’s first nonpartisan local election

Incumbent mayor faces challengers backed by polarizing former Democratic municipal chair

By Joey Fox, April 26 2023 11:41 am

When it comes to political drama per square mile, Red Bank has long been one of New Jersey’s most effective municipalities.

For years, Democrats in the Monmouth County borough of 13,000 have been locked in a brutal internecine fight, with two competing factions engaged in a constant tug-of-war over local control. This year’s May 9 elections represent a continuation of that battle, but with a new twist: they’ll be the first elections held under Red Bank’s new nonpartisan form of government approved by voters last year.

Leading one ticket is incumbent Mayor Billy Portman, who won his first term off-the-line just last year; the borough’s new charter reset all terms, with all offices up this year regardless of when they were last elected. Portman’s opponent is Tim Hogan, a first-time candidate and the president of Riverview Medical Center, a major hospital in Red Bank.

The biggest policy issue in the race appears to be Riverview itself; the hospital already owns huge parcels of land in the borough and is trying to expand even further. 

As chronicled by the local news site Red Bank Green, Portman has criticized the hospital’s actions and said at a debate that a Hogan mayoralty would be a “huge conflict of interest.” Hogan has denied that it would represent a conflict, but it’s of course difficult for him to extricate himself from the hospital he leads.

Beyond land use issues, though, the election is another chapter in the tale of Red Bank Democratic infighting – a tale that revolves primarily around Ed Zipprich.

Zipprich, a councilman and until recently the Democratic municipal chairman, is a galvanizing figure in Red Bank politics. As municipal chairman, he worked to install as many of his allies as possible in elected positions, an effort opposed by another faction of local politics led by Councilwoman Kate Triggiano.

Zipprich won some fights and lost others; typically, when he lost, he would decline to back the winner in the general election.

Last year, with incumbent Mayor Pat Menna retiring, Zipprich and the local Democratic committee backed Councilman Michael Ballard for mayor. But Portman, a political unknown at the time who had only lived in Red Bank for a short while, pulled off an astonishing 22-point off-the-line victory.

Portman’s allies also won a majority of county committee seats, leading to Zipprich’s ouster as municipal chairman in favor of Triggiano. Zipprich refused to support Portman after his victory and tried to get Councilwoman Jacqueline Sturdivant onto the ballot as an independent candidate, but she was thrown off the ballot for petition issues.

Thanks to the charter revision, Zipprich was immediately given another shot at beating Portman, and sure enough, he’s backing Hogan. Zipprich himself is retiring from the council, however, and seems to be taking more of a backseat this year after a long time in the spotlight.

Running instead on Hogan’s Red Bank Together ticket are three council incumbents – Sturdivant, Ballard, and Councilman John Jackson – as well as union elevator constructor Sean Murphy, nonprofit leader Linda Hill, and documentary filmmaker Erin Fleming. (Angela Mirandi, a Zipprich-affiliated councilwoman who was appointed just last year, is not running for re-election.)

Portman, meanwhile, is leading the Red Bank’s Ready ticket with Triggiano, his only ally out of Red Bank’s six current councilmembers. Joining them are school board member Ben Forest, retired nursing professor Laura Jannone, volunteer firefighter David Cassidy, tech worker Kristina Bonatakis, and Nancy Facey-Blackwood, who chaired the commission that recommended changes to the borough charter last year.

A 13th council candidate, school board memebr Suzanne Viscomi, is also running independent of any slate.

One major wild card in the race is how voters, accustomed to traditional June primaries and November general elections, will behave in a May nonpartisan race. Turnout will likely be quite different, and a whole new set of voters will be able to participate after being locked out of previous Democratic primary contests.

Although Red Bank leans strongly Democratic, the borough has a sizable number of more conservative voters; 21% of its voters are registered Republicans, and Republican statewide candidates typically notch around 35% of the vote.

Both mayoral candidates and all 12 of their running mates are registered Democrats. But whichever slate is able to win over non-Democratic voters to their cause – more likely to be Portman’s ticket – could get a big boost.

In the money race, Team Hogan is clearly in the lead. Hogan and his affiliated joint committee have spent around $33,000 and have nearly $70,000 on-hand for the final stretch; Portman and his committee have spent around $23,000 but have barely $5,000 left on-hand.

Still, given his resounding win in 2022 and Hogan’s hospital baggage, Portman is probably the favorite for re-election. It’s harder to say, though, whether his efforts to build a council majority will be victorious as well, especially when Hogan’s slate includes a number of incumbents.

After years of divided politics, Red Bank voters have the opportunity to send their borough clearly down one path or the other. Time will tell which path they choose – or whether the election ends in another split result that keeps the battle alive and well.

This story was updated on April 28 at 8:58 a.m. with a correction: Suzanne Viscomi is no longer a registered Republican.

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