Under the Boardwalk: Incumbent Mayor Schneider v. Pallone (and Grant) II Underway in Long Branch

LONG BRANCH – Accompanied by its own ongoing theme of ominous organ chords and the actual ocean crashing on the pier, the haunted mansion featured a Frankenstein lookalike who was so good, someone went berserk finally and stabbed him. It was a big incident in the papers at the time.

Frankenstein pulled through.

But the mansion perished in that infamous 1987 fire, the origins of which remain unknown. From a window at Monmouth Medical Center, people watched the pier go down in flames, and with it an era of go carts and asteroids and Max’s Hot Dog’s – when it sat right on the water – and the water slide, and that mansion towering over all of it like soundtrack-friendly doom.

That was three years before Adam Schneider snagged the unexpired term on the local council ticket of Frank Pallone, son of a local cop and school board president turned congressman. They enjoyed a certain symbiosis back then. Pallone practically ran Schneider’s 1990 mayoral campaign. It was fun, toppling the remnants of the regime of Philip D. Huhn and coming into office as the new kids on the block. John Pallone was with the Schneider Team then. That was Frank’s little brother. Nice guy. Ran a video production service in New York. Just couldn’t make a decision on his own, they said. But a good guy. Still, some of Schneider’s allies thought the kid radiated a little too much ambition. Watch out, Adam. He’ll run against you.

He did.

That was 1994.

Young Pallone cut out from Schneider and ran for mayor.

Oh, come on, John, we were supposed to be a team.

John almost won.

But he lost.

A future state Senator named Declan O’Scanlon ran Schneider’s campaign that year.

They beat John Pallone.

Felt good doing it, too.

Schneider settled into a steady rhythm at City Hall.

There are leaders who thrive on building consensus and then there are those who like to think of themselves as Winston Churchill-like boardwalk bulldogs, and Schneider fell into the latter category. The people would put him in there for his judgement, not so he could placate anyone who got in his face and yelled. If someone did that, Schneider would give that person an earful.

Schneider backed Christie Todd Whitman in 1997. Her administration’s Department of Community Affairs worked with Long Branch to put up the money to make what would eventually become the Pier Village Project that went in the general waterfront area where the haunted mansion and the pier once stood.

It took a while for the project to cohere. Schneider was running out of room when he won reelection in 2002. Then in 2005, the unveiling occurred. If it didn’t, the mayor might have lost. He won. But then his running mate, John Zambrano, got jammed up.

Zambrano and Schneider were practically brothers.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” a gut-shot Schneider told himself in 2006 on the other side of the election, Zambrano a then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie-casualty.

Brian Unger found his way onto the city council and started banging the podium.

Schneider told Unger to cool it.

“I don’t know if I can do this much longer,” the mayor told the upstart councilman, a candidate for freeholder on the Green Party ticket. “All this can be yours if you just shut up.”

Unger didn’t.

He hammered eminent domain as a key theme.

The two men faced off in 2010.

Schneider incrementally chopped him down.

Unger had looked formidable, but when he chewed the head off a librarian people started to entertain – more publicly – temperament issues.

Schneider was enjoying himself watching Unger imploded.

He threw some loose elbows onstage in their debate.

Then just days before Election Day, the transcript from Solomon Dwek’s corruption trial surfaced in which Dwek accused the mayor of Long Branch of taking bribes. Eager to fulfill the role of Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise under political duress, Schneider bull-horned his troops in to campaign headquarters, denounced Dwek as a “liar and a thief,” and vowed to beat Unger on Election Day.

Schneider won.

The thoroughly vanquished Unger disappeared.

In 2014, the mayor mailed in his campaign against School Board stalwart and African American war hero Avery Grant.

He couldn’t get up for the universally respected Grant, whom nearly everyone liked.

It wasn’t as fun as having the irritable Unger as an adversary.

Grant came within ten percentage points of beating the incumbent mayor, scaring Schneider’s allies in the process.

“If you’re going to do this again, Adam, you’re going to have to work for it,” they told him.

In the interim, John Pallone – basically thrown out of town by Schneider in their first contest – had returned to the public eye. He actually found his way back into Schneider’s good graces, or at least tapped that pragmatic political fiber of the mayor’s alert to the progressive balancing act advantages of having a Pallone on his slate, when he convinced him to let a Pallone onto Schneider’s 2010 citywide ticket. No, Adam, John will run against you. Don’t do it! Or so they said, some of them. Remember what happened after you put him on the 1990 ticket, he turned around… Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll handle him when the time comes, Schneider seemed to say.

Now the time has come.

The younger Pallone, brother of the 6th District Congressman who doubles as the chairman of the local Democratic Committee, wants to be mayor.


“He wants to be mayor,” Schneider says, when asked to assess his rival’s framing of the issues.

So does Avery Grant again.

He’s back too.

Two former Schneider political victims have resurfaced, and now have about five weeks in which to make their respective cases against the 28-year incumbent, dragging all that history with him as he attempts to make his case for his version of Long Branch.

Schneider swears he’s motivated – the same way he was the first time Pallone opposed him, and the same way he was when Unger ran against him. He can’t picture John Pallone as mayor, although he admits it might be fun watching Frank’s kid brother come apart on the job. Schneider’s running a real campaign operation this time and relentlessly pounding on doors. Can he outhustle Pallone in terms of attendance at events? Probably not, he concedes. But his allies insist he’ll be able to get more out of the interactions with those people he does see than Pallone, who’s less apt to rush to the front of any room he occupies in search of shakable hands.

Schneider’s legacy is Pier Village, the luxurious combination of retail and residential rental units that supplanted the old boardwalk environs and displaced the prostitutes, rats and sea scraps that had risen with the demise of the mansion. Pallone plans to run a campaign on what he sees as the mayor’s neglect of the Broadway corridor downtown.

“He was talking about doing something about Lower Broadway in 1994 and he’s still talking about doing something about Lower Broadway,” Pallone commonly cracks on the campaign trail, referring to Schneider.

“Lower Broadway looks like freakin’ Afghanistan,” griped a Pallone ally, infuriated with Schneider’s decision to throw everything into waterfront development while forsaking downtown.

“They told us we had to start with the waterfront,” said the mayor, reflecting on the earliest days of Pier Village.

Animated in a conversation about the campaign, Schneider says Pallone possesses “zero leadership” ability and wouldn’t be able to make a command decision in the kinds of crises that Schneider says have defined him, like a pair of actual hurricanes.

A source close to Grant doesn’t disagree with the mayor’s assessment, but lumps Pallone intot he guilty category when it comes to town development.

“Adam and John will have $100,000 apiece to distract from the real issue,” said the source. “The real issue is the tax abatements this administration has overseen, and in this particular case, tax abatements for the worst possible developers, none other than [Pier Village owner] Jared Kushner and President Donald J. Trump.”

Schneider with the rain pouring outside his law office earlier today made a passing reference to Trump’s presidency.

“A horror show,” he said, pointing to the “Nixon Resigns” newspaper headline cut out on the wall and casually making the point that Democratic Party politics have underscored his entire career.

“Everyone endorsed Christie in 2013,” he shrugged.

That whole cowardly undercurrent of argument by Pallone’s allies about how he’s not a real Democrat because of Todd Whitman, O’Scanlon and Christie – just comically off key, he says. When John Pallone ran against him, the party under older brother’s leadership advised Democratic operatives to stay away from Schneider or else.

And now he’s a pariah because he had the temerity to kick Frank’s kid brother’s butt?

Oh, well, he’ll have to do it again.

Just to make a point.

“We’ll be walking later today, I don’t care about the rain,” said the mayor, all campaign game face.

A few blocks east, the waves tumbled in below the boarded up doors of the church where Ulysses S. Grant worshipped, below the block of stone that marks the corner of a long gone hotel where William Tecumseh Sherman napped, below the monument designating the place where President James Garfield died, below – a short ways north, that range of boardwalk frontispiece to due eastward of Pier Village, the property of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the sitting President.

No haunted mansion organ chords sounded above the dreary stretch of sand.

Nothing but the outstretched gray Atlantic marks the watery grave of Frankenstein.



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