By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — Mayor John Pallone and the five members of the City Council, Dr. Mary Jane Celli, Bill Dangler, Rose Widdis, Mario Vieira, and Dr. Anita Voogt, have announced they will be running for reelection in 2022.
“The bottom line is we’re running together as a team and we want to continue the progress we’ve made,” Pallone told The Link. He says that not only have they improved the city, but worked to create an atmosphere that encourages others to help out.
The mayor cited a long list of accomplishments during his administration’s first term in office, beginning with cutting taxes each year. They’ve also opened new facilities, including the Arts and Cultural Center on Uptown Broadway and the Community Pool. “It benefits all the residents, all the age groups,” Pallone said.
Parks have seen significant improvements, from a new boat ramp at Branchport Park to work at Jackson Woods. There has been extensive landscaping in all parks. And work to improve the city’s outdoors is continuing. Dredging has begun on another part of Lake Takanassee, and Long Branch has received a grant to replace the benches and improve the landscaping around the lake. And along the beachfront, the city opened a second accessible handicapped beach.
Another way the city has improved is getting rid of some eyesores, Pallone said. That includes the long empty Seaview Towers, the old nursing home annex on Bath Avenue, and “that eyesore on Joline Ave. and Washington St.” There have been improvements to the Long Branch train station, and the whole area as part of the Transit Village program. Pallone said they recently met with the NJ Department of Transportation, and are working to make further changes to the station, including making it possible to get to the station from the west side of the tracks, something that’s been impossible for decades.
Pallone said his administration has also helped out businesses. The city introduced the Shop Long Branch program, where residents can get money back or save on taxes by shopping at participating businesses. During the problems with Covid, they organized online resource fairs and provided more than $39,000 in grants to struggling businesses.
During the pandemic the city worked to get people vaccinated, offering clinics. More than 9,000 residents have been vaccinated, and the clinics have resumed for those who want a free vaccine or booster.
Plans for improvements are continuing. The city is in the process of acquiring the Bucky James Community Center from the Long Branch Housing Authority, allowing it to be used by more residents. In return, they’re giving the Authority more land to build affordable housing. The city also received $2 million from developers to improve the Long Branch Senior Center, and is drawing up architectural plans.
“We want to see them through, and be a part of it,” Pallone said.
Each member of the team brings their own specialties with them. Widdis has begun work to honor local veterans through a new Hometown Heroes program. Voogt is active in Long Branch HEARS, which aims to fight the opioid epidemic and end the stigma of addiction. Celli is active in the senior center. Dangler, who is also President of the Greater Long Branch NAACP, works for social justice for residents. And Vieira works with the police, fire department, and others, helping everyone, Pallone said.
“MOCEANS (Center for Independent Living) wanted a concrete ramp. One day I go by, and Mario is putting the concrete down.”
And the Pallone team says they’ve been encouraging “the community spirit.” When people wanted to clean up Jackson Woods, the administration provided support. The latest accessible beach was made possible by the Long Branch Fire Department, which also hosts barbecues for the city.
“Volunteerism is really strong in the city, and we just love to promote that,” Pallone said. Last Thursday, the mayor attended a ribbon cutting for Griffys Organics. Conversations there suggested the city might organize a health fair, with city businesses offering programs and services for residents.
“It’s a really wonderful thing to see, when the community comes together,” he said.
The mayoral race is still a ways off, May of 2022. To date, no other candidates have said they are running.