SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The Republican party will regain control of the mayoralty in Scotch Plains as Al Smith defeated Mayor Kevin Glover by nearly 1,400 votes on Election Day. Meanwhile, his running mate, Ted Spera, beat Luisa Bianco by more than 900 votes in an election that most voters expected to be much closer.
Rev. Keith Owens, who mounted an independent campaign, captured 487 votes. Even if all of the third party candidate's votes went to the mayor, Smith's margin of victory would still have been close to 1,000 votes.
So what turned the tide?
When popular Councilman Llewellyn Jones decided not to run, Glover had a big advantage in name recognition from having served on the Scotch Plains Council since 2006. He also benefited from the power of incumbency in running council meetings and being the host and emcee for township events, a function of his duties that Glover clearly enjoyed.
The low-key Smith, who in the past had taken to the microphone at televised council meetings, refrained from doing so. Instead, he walked across Scotch Plains and spent time talking directly to voters.
"We started early, knocking on doors, talking to people about their concerns. We were way ahead of them," Smith told TAPintoSPF at his campaign headquarters at the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad. "A lot of people were unhappy. We listened to their concerns."
Smith said he plans to focus on downtown development and his "5 Point Plan to make Scotch Plains more affordable and prosperous":
1. Eliminating taxpayer-funded health perks for part-time politicians
2. Supporting downtown development and free municipal parking
3. Pursuing shared services and making government more efficient and accountable with in-depth department reviews.
4. Supporting recreation programs and acquiring a new field to replace the soccer field we lost (at School One).
5. Supporting fiscally responsible budgets by keeping borrowing and spending in check.
"They took the message to the people and the results speak for themselves," said Llewellyn Jones, who walked with Smith and Spera on the campaign trail every weekend.
Glover's strategy was to focus on his accomplishments, including two years of no tax increase budgets, the township's AA rating from Moody's rating service, and the popularity of events, such as car shows, summer concerts and movie nights, to the downtown area.
His campaign was hurt by the controversy of his taking health care benefits from the township's state-sponsored plan that is open only to full-time employees. Glover insisted that he was following precedents set by Republicans who served on the council and accepted health benefits. However, the township had insurance through a private insurer at the time. When Scotch Plains switched to the state plan in 2014, all of its employees were new to the plan and thus the mayor was not grandfathered in.
Glover was also under fire for granting Township Manager Al Mirabella's raise without having put it to a council vote. Glover said the practice had been done before, but in most cases during the past 25 years, previous mayors had sent a letter to the town clerk indicating that raises were authorized by council vote.
The campaign featured numerous Letters to the Editor submitted by supporters of both Smith and supporters of Glover. One letter that may have helped turn the tide was written by former Scotch Plains Councilman Jeffrey Strauss, a Democrat, who outlined why he was splitting his ballot and voting for Hillary Clinton nationally and Al Smith locally.
"We did some wonderful things for this town," Mayor Glover told supporters at the Jerseyland Community Center, located across from the Shady Rest Clubhouse at Scotch Hills Golf Course. "We stabilized taxes, invested in public safety, and looked out for our historical structures. It wasn't enough to get it done."
"They went low and we went high, and I have no regrets for doing that," Glover said. "My running mate, Luisa, insisted in the beginning that we would tell our story and let the chips fall where they may."
"I wish we could have finished more. It's an election, we just couldn't get it done," Glover said. "Life goes on. This community needs to move forward. The sun is going to rise. Let's be proud of what we accomplished in the last ten years."
Glover thanked his wife, Joanne, Township Manager Al Mirabella, Ralph Checchio, Deputy Mayor Rose Checchio, and Councilman John Del Sordi.
Ted Spera, whose father, Gabe, twice served as mayor during the 1980s, said that "a Spera has never lost an election in Scotch Plains.
"In the past few weeks, the feedback was very positive," Spera said. "We did well in districts 12 and 13, places we (Republicans) lost in the past."