POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Candidates and their supporters are approaching next week’s Republican primary with a flurry of charges and countercharges in letters sent to GOP voters and statements issued to The Ocean Star.
Three candidates – borough council members Arlene Testa and Doug Vitale and former mayor Stephen Reid – are competing for the Republican mayoral line in November, when the winner is expected to face no opposition.
Ms. Testa and council running mates Caryn Byrnes and Art Gant, will be listed in Column A on Tuesday’s ballot, by virtue of a Republican Club designation whose legitimacy was questioned this week in a statement issued by the club’s own president.
Mr. Vitale, who will be listed in Column D, was said to have been the choice of the club’s screening committee according to the club president.
Mr. Reid, who will be listed in Column C, traded primary eve attacks with his successor, Mayor Paul Kanitra, who will also be on Tuesday’s ballot as a candidate for state assembly and is supporting Ms. Testa for mayor.
Aside from door-to-door campaigning and candidate forums in which Mr. Vitale and Mr. Reid have debated borough issues and Ms. Testa declined to participate, the race has had minimal public visibility.
Last minute attacks have raised the temperature.
Republican Club President Glen Paesano sent The Ocean Star a statement which claimed Ms. Testa and council running mate Art Gant “were not the choice of the Point Pleasant Beach Republican Organization’s Screening Committee” and accused them of using a “loophole in the club bylaws that enabled them to completely bypass the club screening committee and overtake the Republican Club process.”
He also accused Mayor Kanitra of engineering the club’s March 23 designation of Ms. Testa, Ms. Byrnes and Mr. Gant, overcoming the screening committee’s recommendation of Mr. Vitale and council candidate Dave Betten.
The March 23 meeting was replete with challenges to voting eligibility and charges and countercharges about delinquent dues payments but had nonetheless ended with a club vote designating Ms. Testa, Ms. Byrnes and Mr. Gant as the club’s official ticket.
Mr. Paesano’s statement read: “The Point Pleasant Beach Republican Club screening committee’s choice for Mayor was Doug Vitale. The Committee’s choice for Council was Dave Betten and Caryn Byrnes. These choices were made over several weeks with multiple meetings, interviews and background checks to provide the residents the best choice for our town.”
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Paesano said, “They keep saying they are the real Republican choice and Paul Kanitra sent out a letter today saying the Republican Club was trying to fix the election and none of it was true. They say all these things that we tried to take over the club and it was all lies … I am just stating facts.”
Reached for comment on Mr. Paesano’s claims, Mayor Kanitra said, “They chose a very narrow interpretation of the rules that they thought would only benefit them. They had to rig things because the vast majority of the club was against them … at every single turn they rigged things.”
“It wasn’t just one instance, it was the way [Mr. Paesano] came into power without a vote. It was the way they seeded the screening committee with his best friends. It was the way they interpreted the bylaws and threw out the concept of legacy members and only let a few number of people vote. And on top of all that, it was the fact that they mysteriously misplaced my dues and other people’s dues.”
Despite his statement, Mr. Paesano claimed Thursday that, “I don’t endorse anybody” for fear that “they can oust me as Republican Club president and I want to stay on. They are looking for a reason to oust me.”
Mr. Kanitra, whose letter to voters appears as a letter to the editor on page 28, said it had been sent out earlier to a list of registered Republicans. The letter states that Ms. Testa, Ms. Byrnes and Mr. Gant are running the only campaign “in this sea of insanity that has remained positive the entire time.”
The letter also includes an attack on “a former mayor who couldn’t ever say no to any of the bad actors in town, jumped into the race seemingly hell bent on repealing the short term rental ordinance and our beach and boardwalk rules so his friends can once again rule the town at the expense of residents.”
Ms. Testa also issued a response to Mr. Paesano’s charges Thursday saying, “When my opponents tried to rig the Point Pleasant Beach Republican Club to keep me from running for mayor, I worked harder and won the club’s official endorsement with twice as many votes as any other candidate. I don’t give up.”
Ms. Testa sits on several borough council committees including inspections, license and building codes; public property, buildings and grounds; fire and street lighting.
Mr. Vitale and Mr. Reid declined to comment Thursday on the statements from Mr. Paesano or Mr. Kanitra.
Mr. Vitale is currently the borough council president and chairman of the police and emergency management committee. He also has a seat on the recreation, streets and water sewer utility, fire and street lighting and personnel and human resource committees.
Mr. Reid was defeated for reelection as mayor by Mr. Kanitra in 2019.
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Ocean Star—on newsstands Friday or online in our e-Edition.