Madden Wins Ward II Seat
Mood at GOP election-night party mixed as Republicans mourn Lark loss but cheer Christie
In the most-heated municipal contest, voters ousted two-term Republican councilman Andy Lark Tuesday, as Democratic challenger Steve Murphy defeated the incumbent for the Common Council’s at-large seat. Republican Rich Madden won the Ward II seat, defeating Democrat Laura Graff Coburn, while Republican Nuris Portuondo took the Ward I seat running unopposed.
“The results aren’t exactly the trifecta we were looking for, but two out of three ain’t bad,” Lark told a crowd of about 50 supporters at the Republican election-night party, held at the Beacon Hill Club. “The voters of Summit have spoken. I wish Steve all the best.”
The mood at the Republican event was mixed, with the disappointment over Lark’s defeat tempered by Madden and Portuondo’s election. There was celebration in hoots and applause later in the night when began to call the gubernatorial race for Chris Christie.
Murphy defeated Lark by 598 votes, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie led Governor Jon S. Corzine by about 500 votes – an indication that many Republican voters in Summit appear not to have backed Lark. Madden won his seat by 302 votes.
In debates during the campaign, all the candidates said they would work to limit municipal spending in an effort to reduce taxes. Lark and Murphy offered similar ideas for how to approach cuts: by reducing the number of city employees, and through shared service agreements that would combine police and fire department positions with those in neighboring towns. Both also said they would push for greater transparency in the municipal budget. Murphy openly opposed the addition of a heliport at Overlook Hospital, while Lark objected to making that a campaign issue while the zoning board continues to hear testimony on the hospital application. The Ameripay fraud case was also an issue, with Democrats criticizing Lark, who sits on the council’s finance committee, for lack of oversight.
Lark declined to speculate on reasons for his defeat. Asked whether he plans to run for mayor in 2011, Lark said, “All those things – in anybody’s case – is much too premature. It’s two years off and much too premature.”
Chip Dickson, chair of Summit’s Republican committee, said the Lark-Murphy race was perhaps the most competitive Summit has seen at the local level. He told supporters at the Beacon Hill Club there were likely some things to be learned from the race, but that he was “not ready to say this is what we did right or wrong.”
“The voters are clearly frustrated by what’s happening to the economy and by what they perceive is happening in terms of the management of government at all levels,” Dickson said. “Communication is very important at times like these.”
Madden congratulated Coburn and said he would welcome her future community involvement, and said he was eager to get to work controlling municipal spending with a role on the council’s finance committee.
Portuondo initially faced opposition from Democrat Deb Belfatto, but ran unopposed when Belfatto withdrew from the race in September to focus on her increased responsibilities as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Komen for the Cure’s North Jersey Affiliate.
“I’m saddened by some of the news today, but I’m very excited,” said Portuondo at the Republican celebration. “The voters have asked us to control taxes, and that is what we are going to do. They have asked us to listen, and that is what I am going to do.”