Fair Haven Politics: A Civics FYI

As people go to the polls to vote in Fair Haven today, there are some facts about the borough governing body and its function and history that may have eluded many.

So, the notion in mind that an informed voter is a better voter, here are some facts that may enlighten and inspire at the polls:

Form of Government

Do you know what form of government with which Fair Haven is run?

It is what is dubbed the Borough for of municipal government in New Jersey. There are several forms. While it may seem like a given that since Fair Haven is a borough, the form of government follows suit with that name. It’s not.

The Borough form of government is partisan, meaning that borough council members are affiliated with their particular party and elected on that partisan ticket. This form of municipal government is also a “strong” council, “weak” mayor form of government. This means that the mayor does not vote, except in the case of breaking a tie among council members.

The mayor also has veto power over ordinances (which are, essentially, borough laws). His vetoes, however, are subject to what is termed an “override” by a council two-thirds majority vote. The mayor also chairs, or runs, the meetings. The mayor also has the power to make professional appointments and liaison assignments to council members with the advice and consent of council.

Each council member serves as a liaison to a particular department or organization within the borough to affect better communication between departments/organizations and the governing body.

The mayor can veto ordinances subject to an override by a two-thirds majority vote of the council. The mayor makes committee and liaison assignments for council members, and most appointments are made by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council.

Borough council members are elected to serve three-year terms on a six-member council dais in a completely volunteer capacity. They are not paid a cent to serve. The mayor serves four-year terms.

If a borough council member must resign or retire due to emergent circumstances or a move and cannot complete their term on the dais, the governing body must fill the position within 30 days. The replacement, who is chosen from a pool of candidates nominated by the borough party organization (Democrat or Republican, depending on the party affiliation of the council member leaving), serves out the remainder of the term.

Note that the resigning elected official must be replaced with someone of the same party.

The person who was appointed must run in the November election to either completed that term as an officially elected official or, depending on the seats up for grabs, can opt to run for a full term and run a newer candidate for the shorter, unexpired term.

That, in Fair Haven, is the case right now with candidate Betsy Koch, who was appointed to fill Rowland Wilhelm’s seat (unexpired term) and is now running for a three-year term. Koch ran last year for a full term and did not win, but ended up nominated to fill Wilhelm’s vacant seat. Jacquie Rice, a newcomer to the race, is running to fill the remaining year of Wilhelm’s full term.

By the same token, Borough Councilman Christopher Rodriquez, a Democrat, initially filled unexpired term of Councilwoman Aimee Humpreys, also a Democrat, in February of 2017. He was appointed from a pool of three candidates nominated by the municipal Democratic Committee. Rodriquez then ran for a full term and is now serving it.

Three seats are up for grabs on the six-member council dais are those of currently sitting council members Eric Jaeger and Robert Marchese. The third seat is the unexpired term vacated by Rowland Wilhelm.

History of the Mayor

Council members are elected separately from the mayor, though they may run a campaign with the mayor if parties and interests align and terms happen to be up at the same time.

The mayor’s term, again, is one year longer than council members’, a four-year rather than three-year term. (Refer to the above for more information.)

Mayor Ben Lucarelli, a Republican who initially came to the governing body as a councilman, is running unopposed for another four-year term.

Lucarelli was a sitting councilman when Former Mayor Michael Halfacre resigned to accept an appointment the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control in 2012. Lucarelli was selected to fill Halfacre’s unexpired term. He subsequently ran for mayor and won in each election since.

There has not been a Democratic mayor, nor a challenger run, since Joseph Szostak, who served one term, from 2001 to 2006. Aimee Humphreys was one of the first Democrats to win a term on council in many years.

About Fair Haven

Fair Haven is a roughly 1.6-square mile borough with about 6,000 residents, most of them families. The last U.S. Census report indicated that more than 70 percent of the residents of Fair Haven are married couples. There are roughly 1,700 families.

Fair Haven is in Congressional District 4, which is currently served by Rep. Chris Smith. Prior to redistricting, Fair Haven was in District 12. Smith is being opposed by Democrat Joshua Welle in this election.

The borough is part of Legislative District 13. Republican Senator Declan O’Scanlon was elected last year.

Republican Assemblywomen Amy Handlin and Serena DiMaso are also serving.

All six districts vote at the Church of the Nativity on Hance Road in Fair Haven this election. Polls are open until 8 p.m.
On the Fair Haven ballot are: Republicans Betsy Koch, Jacquie Rice, and former councilman Jim Banahan.
Democrat challengers are: Native Fair Havenite Carolyn Williams
The major issues in Fair Haven are: Commercial, residential and upcoming major facilities development, eminent domain (concerning facilities development), zoning, affordability (primarily affordable housing) and seniors and senior housing.