During a volatile council swearing in ceremony today, Myra Campbell was appointed as Asbury Park’s new mayor — the first time a female African-American has held the post.
Campbell’s appointment came as a surprise, as it bucks what some consider a tradition in Asbury Park of appointing as mayor the person who received the most votes in the prior election. That was newly-elected Councilman John Moor, who ran with Campbell and new Councilwoman Amy Quinn in the May 14 election. Also sworn in were reelected incumbents John Loffredo and Susan Henderson.
Loffredo and Henderson backed Campbell for mayor. Her former running mates Quinn and Moor voted no.
The proceedings began when City Clerk Steven Kay called the meeting to order. After Reverend David J. Parreott, Jr. gave the invocation, the oath of office was administered by Judge Daniel J. DiBenedetto, who swore in the new council members in alphabetical order.
Campbell brought her own bible, which Reverend Kevin J. Williams held for her. After she was sworn in, she moved to sit back down in the crowd instead of taking her seat on the dais.
“You can’t go back now,” Councilwoman Henderson said to Campbell.
Henderson was next to take the oath. Her partner, Donna DeNoble, held the bible while she was sworn into her second full term as city councilwoman. She became a council member upon being appointed to fill the seat of former Councilman James Keady after he resigned in 2008.
Former Deputy Mayor John Loffredo’s partner Richard Gore held the bible while Loffredo was sworn into his fourth full term of office.
When the time came for Councilman Moor to be sworn in, the crowd erupted. Chants of “our new mayor” could be heard from members of the audience. His wife, Vera, held the bible for him.
The crowd cheered again as Moor took his seat on the dais and Quinn was called to place her hand on the bible to be sworn in. Heather Jensen, Quinn’s spouse, held the bible for her.
After all new council members were seated in their respective positions on the dais, Kay called for nomination for mayor.
Loffredo nominated Campbell. Some members of the audience expressed vocal disapproval. Shouts of “turncoat,” “liars,” and “traitors” could be heard.
Others in attendance clapped in support of Campbell.
When Henderson seconded the motion, the dissenters called out that the proceedings were “a disgrace.”
Kay called for other nominations for mayor, but he could not be heard. City Attorney Frederick Raffetto repeated the call so that all in the room could hear.
Supporters of Moor began to call his name aloud. The calls progressed into a solid repetitive chant of “John Moor,” which lasted almost a full minute until the meeting was called to order again.
There were no other nominations made for mayor.
Kay took a roll call. The vote was 3-2. Council members Moor and Quinn voted no.
Campbell was then sworn in by Judge DiBenedetto [photo at right above]. She nominated Henderson for deputy mayor and a vote was taken. The council split 3-2 again, with Moor and Quinn voting no.
Campbell read the following statement after being appointed mayor, although at times she was interrupted by the crowd which Moor urged to settle down:
“A window of opportunity that has never been opened for an African-American female in this city, and may never be opened again, was presented to me. This was an extremely difficult decision to make knowing tradition would be changed and would affect two people I’ve worked with for months.
I asked John and Amy if they would make a concession: Nominate me for mayor, as the incumbents did on Friday night, and they’d serve taking terms as deputy mayor.
This was unacceptable to them. I empathize with what they are going through at this time. I will make every effort to show them that together we can move the platform we stood on forward.
Everyone on this council will take an oath today to serve the citizens of Asbury Park. Time to heal is needed, and I hope we can unite for the common good of all.”
After the meeting adjourned, Campbell received congratulations from her supporters, who recognized the significance of Campbell’s achievement.
“History was made, today, in Asbury Park,” said Jessie Ricks, a 44-year resident of the city. “We have a female African American mayor, and a female deputy mayor. History was made.”
But there were others openly critical of Campbell’s appointment as mayor.
“In 30 years of council meetings, I have never seen anything like that in my life,” said former councilman James Bruno, who supported Campbell and her ticket in the May election. “She has no experience at all as an elected official. She obviously wasn’t the choice of the people, and the way this went down is criminal.”
Bruno said Moor had planned to hold the office for a year, and then turn it over to other council members so that they could all have a chance as mayor. Bruno and Moor served on the Board of Education together in Asbury in the late nineties, he said, and that was how they rotated the position of board president.
“All three of them are beginners,” said Henderson of Moor, Quinn and Campbell. “None of them have sat up there before. All three of them are very capable. But for me, Myra is the one that got up in front of the microphone [at previous council meetings] and represented the community. Myra’s the one that complained to us more than anybody else as far as the microphone was concerned.”
Henderson said the tradition of selecting the highest vote-getter was set up by Loffredo, Bruno and former Councilman Kevin Sanders.
“It’s not a written rule anywhere,” she said. “In fact, two elections ago, [Loffredo] got the second most votes, and he stepped down so that Bruno could be deputy mayor — you do what’s best for Asbury Park. Now, we have someone from each ticket representing the city and working together and I think that is important. Now we need to get over this, and we need to get to business.”
“I hope the people come to realize we want to do what is best for the interests of the city of Asbury Park,” said Loffredo.
Quinn expressed disappointment.
“I don’t think the will of the people of Asbury Park was heard today,” she said.
Moor had only one comment.
“It was a great day in Asbury Park,” he said of today’s proceedings.
Click here for a Sun photo album of the day’s proceedings.