Fair Haven Borough Council Candidates: Getting to Know Democrat Bob Gasperini

With two seats for Fair Haven Borough Council up for grabs in the 2021 election, four candidates are vying: two Republicans, incumbent Betsy Koch and newcomer Tracy Cole; and two Democrats, newcomers Bob Gasperino and Sonja Trombino.

In the spirit of looking especially closely at the candidates and their views on local issues, Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect offered a detailed Q&A to each candidate that offered more of a retro twist, with a dip into the past and its effect on the present and future.

The Q&A for each will be published in the order in which answers were received. Each question and answer offers your closest look at local candidates, so here’s your opportunity to get to know them.

Here’s our detailed chat with Bob Gasperini …

Be sure to read, to the end, all that each candidate has to say to be fully informed about where they stand on local issues and how they intend to serve the public …

Bob Gasperini
Photo/Fair Haven Democrats

Name, age, street address 

Robert Gasperini, 49, 673 River Road

Tell us about your educational and professional backgrounds. What about your background do you feel suits you best for a council seat? Is there something in particular you think you can bring to the dais that distinguishes you from the rest? What about your work is a little-known fact that will make you a stronger council member? Most misunderstood, or negative, aspect of your career that you think gives you an advantage as a public servant.

I have a BA in Administration of Justice from Penn State University and an MBA from Monmouth University.  I have been in the financial industry for over 25 years, beginning my career at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY.  

My focus for a majority of my career at the Federal Reserve was on the legal and regulatory side where I co-authored a number of papers on topics such as regulating derivatives and foreign bank regulation in the US market.  In the midst of the financial crisis of 2008 I decided it was time to slow down and leave the city to spend more time with my family.  

I refocused my career in community banking where I could make a more direct impact by working directly with individuals and businesses. For the past 11 years I have worked in the commercial lending areas of community banks, with a focus on loan operations and construction loan administration.  

I have a deep understanding of operations, finance and construction loan administration. Currently as a member of the Facilities and Finance Committees for the town, I am able to put my extensive experience directly to work.  

As a member of the Borough Council, I would be able to continue that work, but in a decision-making capacity. The process involved in running loan operations in a bank requires extensive knowledge not only about lending, but software systems, personnel management, time management and operating under very strict regulatory guidelines. All of these skills and knowledge bases would translate well to being a member of the Borough Council.  

Where did you grow up? What about your hometown do you see in Fair Haven? 

I grew up in West Long Branch, just a few miles from Fair Haven.  

When I was growing up, there was a strong sense of community and volunteerism. My parents were always involved in community activities, mostly centered around my sports leagues.  

For those that were involved in and volunteered in the town, we were all like a big family.  I am still friends with many of the kids I grew up with and feel tightly bonded to them. The same sense of community and volunteerism drew me to Fair Haven.  I have continued in my parents’ footsteps, volunteering for various sports and civic groups over the years.  

When did you move to Fair Haven and was there a particular incident, aside from being struck by the overall well-known small town charm of the borough and schools, that gave you the clarity that this would be home? Be specific. A specific encounter. A microcosm. Ie: meeting someone, a conversation with a potential neighbor, something that happened in a store or eatery or on the dock … that sort of thing.

We moved to Fair Haven about 20 years ago, when my oldest son was just about 6 months old.  

We met a couple in Lamaze class that lived in Shrewsbury that we became very friendly with. They knew we were looking for a new home so they introduced us to their realtor who after many conversations knew that Fair Haven was the town that we should be looking in.  

Our friends got us involved in the Newcomers Club where we met many life-long friends. We quickly fell in love with the town and found a home soon after, which is our home to this day.

What was your primary impetus for running? Any specific Fair Haven issue that really lit the spark, so to speak? If an incumbent, why run for re-election? Any issue you’d like to see through to effective resolution? 

I decided to run for two reasons. First, I just wanted to give back. My oldest is in college and my younger son is now a senior at RFH.  I have some more time on my hands and thought it would be the perfect time to get involved at a new level.  As a family we have be given so much by the town that it is time to return the favor.  

The second reason why I decided to actually run for Council was after watching the many false starts around the Police Department, DPW and Borough Hall projects. It struck me how little information was filtering out to the residents until it really needed to and how it seemed as though the plans were out of sync with the needs of the community.  

After a number of conversations with many fellow citizens and a couple current Council members, I decided, with their encouragement, that it was time to run for Council. I felt I would be able to greatly enhance the process surrounding capital projects, budgeting and strategic planning if I was able to be directly involved.  

Tell us about your involvement with the community, volunteer organizations and/or governing body boards and/or commissions.  Tell us which event and/or fundraiser you feel speaks to the cause and you most and gets the most effectively accomplished. 

Over the years, I have been involved in many youth recreation sports as a coach or assistant coach. I helped with many Cub Scout and Boy Scout activities while my boys were involved in the programs.  

My wife and I have been involved with River Rats Youth Sailing program for the past 4 or 5 years. Most recently, I serve on the Board of the RFH Touchdown Club. This organization raises money to support both the youth football programs and the RFH High School Football teams. The objective is to raise funds to be applied towards the safety, development and training of the athletes taking part in these programs.  

What I admire most about this organization is the fact that it runs fairly quietly just below the surface, while making a significant impact with the funds it raises. We run two or three fundraising events throughout the year that support our annual capital projects. It’s a selfless group of parents, many of which no longer have kids in the youth or high school programs; we do it out of love for the sport and because we are able to have such a direct and measurable impact on an annual basis.  

When you are able to see the results of your fundraising efforts or to have a parent come up and thank you for the efforts of the group, it provides such a sense of pride to part of such a dedicated group of individuals. 

What do you think is your best attribute? Biggest flaw and how you’ve made it work to your advantage? 

I feel that my best attribute is my ability to communicate. I pride myself on being able to communicate clearly and directly to a wide range of individuals. 

I am a thoughtful speaker; while a have no issues speaking my mind I do so with purpose and reason, choosing my words carefully to ensure that I can properly convey my message and still be mindful of the opinions and feelings of those that I am speaking to. 

I don’t speak my mind for the sake of hearing myself talk.  I learned early on in my career that public speaking can be a great asset or a great liability. I have focused my entire career on making public speaking a great asset of mine in spite of being one of life’s most difficult tasks.  

My biggest flaw is how much I like to speak, especially when it’s about a topic I am passionate about or care deeply about; sometimes I just talk too much. However, I use it to my advantage by using it as a tool to transfer knowledge.  I explain to people that I tend to talk a lot, but I do so to educate those around me.  

Name a local elected official, of the past or present, from the immediate Rumson-Fair Haven area who you admire most. What is it about them that inspires you? Advice or a quote from them that has stuck with you? 

A public official that I most admire is Senator Vin Gopal. I met Senator Gopal many years ago in a few networking groups that I used to get to know more local business owners when I began working in community banking.  

Vin was this young go getter, selling ad space in the newly formed Community Magazine. I was impressed with how well-spoken he was, how effortless it was for him to connect with those around him, and how driven and focused he was. 

He wasn’t just a “salesman” selling for his gain, he was a proponent and supporter of local businesses always looking for ways to help someone out.  It’s funny because sometimes you meet people and immediately know that you will see them again, in a much greater capacity.  

Vin’s laser focus on his constituents and the topics he is passionate about is evident in everything he does.    

What misperception do you think you had of local municipal officials’ work and/or character before running yourself? 

I have never questioned anyone’s character that was volunteering and dedicating their time for the betterment of their town, city or state, without good reason for doing so.  

Those that volunteer their time and efforts should be admired and respected for doing so.  

Until I got involved on the Facilities and Finance Committees, I don’t think I fully appreciated how much time and effort went into the smooth operation of a town by its many volunteers.  

Running for office was a conscious decision made with the understanding that it would time consuming and a mentally taxing undertaking. I went ahead, knowing that I function best when challenged. I’m ready for the challenge.  

Fair Haven Borough Council members are volunteer public servants. There is no pay or health benefits involved. It is also a very time-consuming job that requires transparency and constant accessibility to the public. It’s often a thankless job. What benefit is there for you, specifically, besides the obvious serving the town in which you live? 

Honestly, there is no benefit for me personally.  

I embarked on this journey knowing that I was doing so purely for the benefit of the town.  

I am giving my time and talents to the town and its residents, with nothing expected in return. I am not the type of person that seeks the spotlight.  I give for the sake of giving.  

However, if there had to be a benefit, I guess the only benefit to me would be that I would get to meet many more of our residents while serving the town. 

Fair Haven celebrated its centennial in 2012. The borough is 109 years old and known for its old hometown charm.  What aspect of the old Fair Haven of 25 to 109 years ago that you know or have heard of that would you like to see make a comeback if you had your way? For example … Types of businesses? More population diversity, culturally and across income brackets? Waterborne travel on the river? Bungalows? A players’ club and artistic hub, as with the old Shrewsbury Yacht Club? Use your imagination and intertwine the best of the past with the present and future of the borough in an imaginary plan. 

I would like to see the town maintain its diverse demographic and character.  All too often these days we tend to push to the middle, losing the diversity as we all become more similar.  

When I moved to town, I was struck by the diversity of the town; in its history, its residents and its housing. As an outsider, I always had this impression of the town as a wealthy enclave that was an offshoot of Rumson.  

What I quickly found was that there was a rich history that grew from the multi-generational families that lived in town.  

This is the fabric of Fair Haven, the very ties that bind it together and make it the town that it is. To lose the multi-generational families to the high cost of living here would be to tear away at the very fabric of the town.  

The ability of families to stay here and have their kids be able to move to Fair Haven is at risk as the housing stock becomes more and more homogeneous and expensive.  

Great towns are built on great diversity in age, culture and history.  

Residents have complained lately and for the past several years that there is too much bulldozing of older, smaller homes to make way for new development of residences that often end up, in the minds of some, squeezed onto a lot, overwhelming neighborhoods and stripping them of the borough’s noted quaint charm. Obviously, present planning and zoning allows for the floor area ratio to reach those limits. These planning and zoning concerns are in the process of being addressed via the borough’s development and land use ordinances on the books.  What would you like to see happen with respect to changes? Do you think there is too much over-building, despite the market trends for bigger homes for bigger families? 

The reform of zoning ordinances is a long and multi-faceted process.  Zoning reaches far and wide in a town and its impacts can have lasting impacts, both positive and negative.  

Sometimes the effects or impacts are not immediately evident and their consideration not easy to appreciate at the time that zoning changes are embarked upon.  While I do feel strongly that the town should undertake a careful, broad examination of its zoning ordinances, I caution that such a process must be done carefully to avoid over correcting and swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction.  

Zoning is all about balance.  Zoning ordinances are the long slow tail to town development; it’s a slow but progressive change that is both not easy to stop and equally hard to reverse without causing unintended consequences.  Any changes must be made with a very clear vision of what the residents and governing want to the town to look like, 5, 10 or 15 years from now; not what they want right now.  

When I first moved to town, the interpretation of the zoning laws was strict and any deviation from those ordinances was very carefully scrutinized and variances were only given under the strictest of circumstances. 

In my 20 years, while the ordinances have not changed, the interpretation and application of those ordinances have clearly changed.  

As an example, my wife and I looked at a house on Kemp Avenue that used to be the carriage house from an old estate.  We wanted to demolish the house because it literally sat on the rear property line and build a new home (within the confines of the existing setbacks) towards the front of the lot so we could have a backyard instead of a huge front yard.  We were told that everyone was asking that same question and the answer from the town was “No”.  

Well, fast forward 10 or so years and sure enough that house came down and not one but TWO houses went up in its place.  Same zoning laws, different zoning board members.

River time is a time-honored tradition for any Fair Haven-raised kid and their parents. In the past, kids snuck onto access points at Hance Road, Grange Avenue, and, of course, the dock and River Rats. There was always a “catch me if you can” mentality when hanging out down by the river, as the residents who lived there usually discouraged access, shooing them away from what they considered their back yards. Winifred Robards encouraged open access from her property to the river. There is now the passive Robards Williams Park at the foot of DeNormandie. The other access points, in the process of becoming pocket parks, are much smaller. Do you think the property at the end of Fair Haven Road by the dock should become a larger park if funding is available via the state’s DEP Blue Acres, Green Acres programs and/or the private Monmouth Conservation Foundation? Why or why not? These funding avenues have usually supported the purchases of riverfront property for public use. 

As I have stated previously, I believe that it is in the best interest of any town to continually add to its natural assets for the enjoyment of all residents.  

However, I always qualify my remarks with the fact that any such addition (purchase in this case) must be made in context with the town’s ability to not only acquire the property without unduly burdening the residents with additional taxes, but also being mindful that this will add to the portfolio of physical assets that also must now be cared for going forward.  

If the town is able to secure sufficient funding so that the park can be added with limited impact to the town’s finances, I am in favor.  But timing is also important. As the town embarks on its two largest capital projects in many years, the timing may not be right for such an acquisition.  

The governing body must always be cognizant of what other projects are being taken on and how much the town can actually absorb until it reaches a point of diminishing returns. There must be a clear and discernible benefit to the town for the town to spend the money. If there’s not, I also have no problem voting no.

Fair Haven has lost a lot of its senior population, some of whom have been in the borough their entire lives. It has become unaffordable for seniors on a fixed income when it used to be affordable for the middle-aged  empty nesters to senior population. If you won the lottery and became a billionaire, what would you do, personally, to help your senior neighbors live their lives out in Fair Haven? 

I would put into place a fund that would pay the real estate taxes for all residents over the age of 55 on a sliding scale.  

The cost of living in town is driving in large part by the real estate taxes; it’s what makes in unaffordable for many residents as they age.  

Under my scenario, once a resident reaches the age of retirement, say 67 years old, they would not be responsible for paying real estate taxes; real estate taxes would be phased out entirely after the age of 67.

The new facilities plan is one that has been rehashed for some time. How do you feel about the newest plan? It calls for demolition of the present police station, which is an old segregated school, building, also once a kindergarten to many past the segregation years. Officials have said it is beyond saving, despite the history. What would you like to see on the site, incorporated into the new plan, to memorialize its history in some way? 

I am a proponent of the latest plan. There have been many hours of thoughtful planning, deliberation and conversations with residents on how best to integrate these buildings into the communities in which they reside.  

As a member of Facilities Committee, I know that many conversations have been had around how best to honor the history of the current PD building as that history is so important to Fair Haven.  There are plans to incorporate a number of features of the current building to the greatest extent possible into the new building.  

It’s always unfortunate to lose something such as the PD building, but the building has become outdated and functionally deficient.  

To maintain it even for another use, would be a significant drain on the resources of the town.  To make it a public use building substantial upgrades and renovations to meet the current building code would be required, at significant expense to the town.  

The greatest way to honor the legacy of the old building is to not let history repeat itself.  It is essential that the town plan for the careful preservation of its assets, new and old.  

Transparency and effective communication have become key issues in borough governing. If elected, what specific ideas do you have to enhance both, keeping residents informed, engaged and involved? 

My primary goal when I am elected will be to begin the process of transforming the capital project planning process to institute a deliberate and uniform and transparent process that requires resident involvement from the very earliest conceptual stages through to completion.  

What has been a function that largely existed in the shadows of town government for many years, must be brought into the light.  

My goal would be to incorporate every capital project into a living breathing document accessible to every resident. The process must consider the priorities of the town as well as its resident. The process must be inclusive and transparent. It must also be flexible and adaptable. 

Fair Haven is not nearly as affordable as it was 25 to 50 years ago, but people made decisions to move there over the years based on the modest, cozy and inclusive atmosphere. In fact, it was just named the happiest town in Monmouth County. Most are happy with their decision. The present plan is just a formality that could take years or never come to fruition. It is presented to show good faith in meeting the state’s affordable housing mandate. Do you think there should be more affordable housing, including the building of smaller homes and apartments for more diverse segments of the population, as these are the elements that drew people to the borough? We know what the plan calls for. What would you, personally, like to see satisfy the need, besides sending them to another town?

As with many other challenges faced by our town, like many other towns, the groundwork was laid many years ago and we must now deal with the results. The affordable housing efforts are the result of towns around the state kicking the can down the road by exploiting the loopholes in the regulations.  

Unfortunately for many towns, Fair Haven included, the real estate developers are way ahead of towns in terms of understanding and applying the affordable housing regulations.  

Affordable housing is also often misunderstood. Affordable housing is a relative term; it’s a function of income in each town. With that in mind, affordable housing in Fair Haven may allow certain residents, current or prospective, to come to or stay in town.  

Teachers, police officers, DPW workers, town administrators all have trouble finding “affordable” housing in Fair Haven. It also means that residents that would normally move from Fair Haven as they grow older would be able to stay in town by downsizing to something more affordable.  

Or, younger individuals that grew up in Fair Haven could return to town to start their own families.  It’s time for towns to embrace the affordable housing regulations and take control of the process back from the developers by being proactive in applying the regulations to the benefit of the town and its resident, and not just the developers.  

Is there any other issue you deem critical in the borough that you would like to see addressed? Explain and take the opportunity to add anything else you would like to emphasize about your candidacy. 

As with any relationship in life, communication is key. A key component of my goal of transparency would be clear, consistent and two-way communication with the residents of the town.  

Residents have questions; they are not always “questioning”.  The governing body has a responsibility to respond to those questions.  

The answers may not always be what the residents want to hear, but the governing body is tasked with making the tough decisions.  I have found in my many years of customer facing interactions, I get the best results when addressing difficult conversations head on and up front.  

I prefer face to face conversations as they are more personal and generally more respectful (more so than many faceless interactions over social media these days). I am not one to hide behind and office door or a computer screen.  Come see me so we can talk.  Or, I will come to you.  

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management