BELMAR, NJ — Democratic newcomers Cheryl “Cheri” Russo and Maggie McBride have declined invitations to participate in two forums open to all candidates vying for two Belmar Council seats in the November 5 general election.

As a result of their decision, plans for a candidate forum sponsored by the Belmar Better Angels and moderated by the League of Women’s Voters (LWV) of Southern Monmouth County will not proceed, while a “Meet the Candidates” event by the Belmar Business Partnership will be held with the three other candidates — Republican incumbents James McCracken and Thomas Carvelli, and independent James Bean.

In a prepared statement, Russo and McBride said, “We both value talking directly to voters, communicating what we will do if we are elected and listening to their concerns. The overriding concern we hear about campaigning door to door is the terrible impact the recent 21.7 percent tax increase is having on Belmar's residents. Some people have even indicated they will need to move because they can no longer afford to live on Belmar. That is unacceptable to us. Unfortunately, the suggested debates do not seem to address the underlining issues facing Belmar, so we are choosing to continue to listen directly from people so we are fully prepared if we have an opportunity to serve the people as council members.”

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McCracken and Carvelli said in a statement that a representative from its campaign contacted the Belmar Better Angels to "organize an all-candidate forum so the voters can make an informed decision on Election Day. Unfortunately, our Democratic opponents chose to not participate making that event not possible. We are disappointed they declined to attend. We encourage everyone running for council to be open and available to their constituents in advance of Election Day, so that the people of Belmar can get to know them and make a decision based on the merits of those individuals.”

Former Belmar Councilman Bean, who’s making an independent bid, also commented in a statement: “Campaigns are fought in the realm of ideas. The more chances the voters get to hear a candidate explain their ideas, the higher the chances they can win some votes. I encourage all candidates to stand up for what they believe and bring their best argument for our future to a debate. Hearing the ideas from the candidate’s mouth can change a voter’s mind.”

Evelyn C. Murphy, voters service director of the LWV of Southern Monmouth County, said that while league rules do not require participation by all candidates in a forum, it can only proceed as long as more than one party is represented.

In learning of the Democrats’ decision not to participate, “Belmar Better Angels (BBA) is very disappointed that this nonpartisan forum is not going forward this year, as we feel it would have been beneficial for the residents of Belmar to be able to hear all the candidates and have the opportunity to ask questions. But we plan to try again next year,” said Merry Brennan, spokesperson for the group that is part of a national Better Angels network — a citizens organization dedicated to bridging the nation’s political divide by looking for common ground and ways to work together.

Formed in 2017, BBA is comprised of members with diverse political backgrounds who have been “working for the common good of Belmar.”

Belmar Business Partnership’s “Meet the Candidates” forum is slated for Thursday, October 17 during its fall stakeholders meeting to be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Doughboy’s restaurant, 507 Main Street.

Each candidate will be given 10 minutes to present their views on the business climate in Belmar to business owners and commercial property owners, who also can participate in the discussion. Candidate presentations in random order will begin around 6:15 p.m.

Democrats Russo and McBride’s invitation will remain open until the day of the event — “should they change their mind,” said Thomas Burke, vice president of the all-volunteer organization dedicated to supporting commerce, business and tourism in this seashore community.

Created by Belmar to manage its Special Improvement District, BBP’s operations are primarily funded through an assessment on commercial properties in Belmar, along with some sponsorship and other additional income sources.

For more information on the forum or to make a reservation for the entire stakeholders meeting, call BBP at 732-894-9022 or email


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