Pallone Swats (Gently) at Schneider on Development and Mayor Counterpunches – but not with the Usual Excitable Force

Pallone

LONG BRANCH – Mayor Adam Schneider, an attorney, debates for a living, while his well-funded opponent, John Pallone, the younger brother of U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), runs a photography business and has avoided both debates and the media in this, his second run at the mayor’s seat held by Schneider. The expectation tonight was for Schneider – a notoriously motor-mouthed and well-prepared public person – to run over press averse Pallone. But it didn’t happen, in a genteel, hour-long debate defined by broad-ranging, cookie cutter questions that gave significant wiggle room to the candidates, which ended with grinning faces of Pallone supporters dotting the crowd, like the relieved-looking owners of fine crockery who can return such items – reserved only for very rare occasions – unscratched to their cupboards.

At the outset affixing horn-rimmed glasses to the face that resembles that of his brother, Pallone dutifully read opening and closing remarks onstage here at Long Branch High School, while Schneider, zapped in this campaign season by 14 pieces of mail by his challenger and suffering, apparently, the eyesore of Pallone signs blanketing the city, mostly refrained from lighting up his opponent. It was as if he refused to rouse himself to the task of fulfilling even the blandest motions of the forum, as if convinced his throwing a punch would take Pallone’s head off and prompt sympathy.

One of the state’s master debaters mailed it in, maybe out of contempt for those scattered few in the audience who had attended for the sole purpose of witnessing a demolition job.

There would be no show tonight.

Schneider would not give anyone such pleasure.

Or maybe it was something more.

If there was ever a chance for the 28-year incumbent to lay flat his nice-guy but infamously indecisive

Schneider

challenger it was here. But Schneider seemed tight, clammed in either the bewilderment of trying to escape from that blizzard of mail defining him as a Republican sympathizer at the worst possible time, in an environment of Trump push back, in this single mayoral debate where all three candidates participated – or just withdrawn, fatigued from a political career of excitable in-fighting, or again, unwilling to play the bad guy to a crowd packed with Pallone-ites besieged daily by Trump’s angry tweets.

Polling shows a close race.

But no urgency awakened the combatants.

At the start of the event, Schneider leaned casually on the edge of the stage, surveying the crowd, when Pallone entered at the back of the room and made a hand over hand entrance in the vicinity of his backer, former Superintendent Joe Ferraina.

Down front, School Board Member Avery Grant – who lost to Schneider four years ago by fewer than 250 votes – sat awaiting the word to go onstage.

Grant

When Pallone reached the front of the auditorium, he frostily acknowledged Schneider, who frostily acknowledged Pallone. After the debate ended, they worked around each other. There would be no  handshake.

There’s bad blood here, and Schneider would provide the why in the forum’s lone et tu moment.

But back to the beginning.

Joe Ferraina

Two minutes after six p.m., the three men went up onstage.

The Link News/League of Women Voters debate forum was about to begin.

This seaside burgh on the North Jersey shore set the scene for the first would-be collision when Schneider almost mundanely went after Pallone on the heels of a question about how such a friendly town could weather negative campaign mail.

Grant amiably talked about his “smile campaign.”

For his part, “I try not to be decisive – to not be divisive, sorry,” said Pallone, triggering mild harrumphs.

A simpler way of saying that would be he’s indecisive.

Schneider pounced.

But it was not the attack of one looking to finish his rival.

The mayor seemed suspended, almost, in mid air, as he mildly mauled the young Pallone.

“The question was about negative mail,” said the mayor. “Neither Mr. Grant nor I has sent out a single mailer yet.”

That left Pallone.

It’s PAC money that isn’t being disclosed,” said Schneider. “Every single one of those mailers has been dishonest and despicable.”

“I have no knowledge of who’s sending them out,” Pallone said.

But one of the pieces in question, linked above, actually came from the Pallone Campaign. (The Stronger Foundations PAC, with ties to the Operating Engineers Local 825, the same outfit that targeted state Senator Jen Beck (R-11) last year, did circulate this anti-Schneider Facebook ad, however, which is also on local TV in Newark by the Sea.)

There was no follow-up.

If Pallone was letting his campaign nuclearize Long Branch, he appeared either oblivious, or unperturbed.

Pallone

Sources close to the challenger express confidence in their having defined the incumbent in this cycle and tapped into voters’ negative feelings about the Pier Village Development Project that defines Schneider’s mayoral success.

Eager apparently to play out the clock and affix a check mark next to his lone debate appearance, the friendly Pallone tried to rattle the incumbent following a question about development.

“He didn’t say anything about union leaders, I think he meant he was talking about developers,” Pallone said, and some groans in the audience ensued.

Pallone has significant labor support.

If he has won the air war and sign war, and came away unscathed in the debate, where he was supposed to crack, and has the progressive-tested name “Pallone” amid all kinds of Trump misery, and a $32K to $22K spending advantage over the mayor, according to the Asbury Park Press, it should be said, to, that he has labor, in time for GOTV seven days from now.

“He hasn’t seen any abandoned properties?” the challenger complained, hardly taking a risk. It was a jab, one of a handful he lobbed at Schneider, never getting inside to put himself at any real risk. If Schneider had decided to play the role of sleepy lion, Pallone would not provoke him. But it seems his nature not to provoke, so it was easy work.

“What about Belmont Avenue?” the councilman asked. “We need to get much stricter on enforcement.”

He doesn’t come across as an enforcer type.

That would be Schneider.

But Schneider only solemnly retaliated.

“We have a developer’s agreement, and John Pallone voted for it,” the mayor said.

“The mayor’s right,” Pallone answered.

He added cryptically, “I voted for it. I didn’t have much choice, We won’t go there.”

Some groans from Schneider’s allies trailed the remark, but the mayor didn’t double back.

Part of him might have welcomed the repose of wondering whether fragile Pallone would implode on his own, much the way certain boxers – at some point in their career – experiment by seeing if they can win a round by not throwing a punch.

Moments later, Pallone – apparently content to allow certain national conditions to carry the day in this Democratic Party-dominant city – said he didn’t know if the national recession in 2008 impacted Long Branch development, and Schneider, when it was his turn, said, “Of course it impacted it, and we persevered.”

It was no great moment.

Pallone went ponderously back to the issue in the next round.

“A lot of the communities struggled with the recession for sure,” said the challenger, noting surrounding towns. But while some of them are doing well, “we’re sure with a vacant lot on lower Broadway.”

Schneider later in the debate said he hadn’t heard Pallone ever suggest a single cut to the city budget.

As if proving the difficulty Schneider may have in getting through Pallone’s (green) wave of mail against him, School Board Member Grant won the biggest applause of the evening at tonight’s mayoral debate when he took a shot at the town’s signature waterfront development championed by the mayor.

“If you think Pier Village is helping you, then I feel sorry for you,” Grant said.

A significant portion of the crowd clapped.

The mayoral candidate said he and his wife can’t afford Pier Village’s recreations and bewailed the tax abatements and so-called “ambiance” afforded by the property.

The John Pallone-portion of the crowd groaned and guffawed moments later when Schneider, in his closing remarks, said, in a shot at Pallone, “I never stabbed anyone in the back,” a reference to the young Pallone’s decision (twice) to run against Schneider after having initially run as a member of the Schneider Team.

Here’s that history.

Was it the twice gouged dagger still quivering in Schneider that bothered him?

Pallone had said he wouldn’t run against him all those years ago and did; then disappeared, and said he was ready to be part of the team again, then ran against him.

Stabbed in the back, Schneider said.

But for the remark, he refused to wince or twist.

Might his removed performance tonight have been a function of contempt – as he sees it – for one who went back on his word, the collapse of political empire around him not as stirring finally as the inner irritation of a hollow challenge, the wave preordained by the times, Declan redistricted and Beck gone now, and Pier Village’s ties, noted by the Pallone mail piece, to Trump, a humorous irony but deadly given all the political atmospherics, and to sweat any of it would be to honor it, and Schneider, usually excitable, tonight opted for Buddha-like repose as a statement – surprising anyone who expected his blood to curdle – more stoical than political?

Schneider
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