FR&A Analysis: Hot-Button Topics Fail To Ignite Voters In Mayor/Council Election

2015 Election4

Democrats celebrate their victory Nov. 3.

The two hot topics of the past year or so failed to manifest themselves at the voting booth in the Nov. 3 election, an FR&A analysis of the results shows.

Although they were the subjects of several heated Township Council meetings and endless debates on social media, the development of Middlebush and Catalpa parks failed to result in the threatened voter backlash against incumbent Democrats.

And outrage against Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D At-Large) for his comments about residents opposed to the proposed Catalpa Park also did not spread to the voting booth, with Prasad easily besting the highest Republican vote-getter.

Township Councilman Phil Kramer (D-Ward 3) handily beat Republican Mayor Chris Kelly for the mayor’s seat, and Democratic At-Large incumbents Rajiv Prasad, Kimberly Francois and Shanel Robinson won election over their Republican challengers, Scott Siegel, Raleigh Steinhauer and Catherine Barrier.

Overall, out of 39,848 registered voters, a total of 8,585 voters – or 21.5 percent – actually showed up to the polls.

That’s down from 2011, the last time township voters picked a Mayor and Ward council members. That year, 27.5 percent of the township’s 36,694 registered voters exercised their franchise, according to figures supplied by the Somerset County Clerk’s Office.

A review of the districts affected by the decisions to build Middlebush and Catalpa parks shows that even though the parks were the sources of heated debates and threats to vote out incumbent Democrats, that outrage did not translate to any direct action of consequence.

The use of speakers by the Pop Warner Football organization at Middlebush, and the very creation of Catalpa Park – planned for about 25 acres off South Middlebush Road – drove angry residents to a handful of Township Council meetings in 2014 and 2015.

Social media-based opposition to Catalpa – and perceived overdevelopment in general – led Prasad to charge that that opposition was race-based, partly because cricket pitches are planned for Catalpa Park. Cricket is a favorite sport of Asian Indians.

That charge, as well as Prasad’s request that township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts ask the FBI to investigate two of the most outspoken critics of the park, led to a campaign to defeat Prasad at the polls.

But that campaign was unsuccessful, because even though Prasad was the lowest Democratic vote-getter, garnering 4,589 votes, he easily outpolled his nearest Republican challenger, Scott Siegel, who received 3,312 votes.

A review of voting results in the districts affected by the two parks shows that opposition to the parks did little to influence the vote.

Middlebush Park affects residents in District 19 in Ward 2 – in which it sits – and parts of Districts 26 and 28 in Ward 3.

In District 19, where about 23 percent of the 649 registered voters voted, Kramer beat Kelly 85-58 votes, and the council Democrats outpolled their challengers 254-169 votes.

In District 26, Kramer beat Kelly 132-80 votes, while the Democratic council slate beat the Republicans 303-285 votes. About 27 percent of that district’s 797 voters cast their ballots.

And in District 28, Kramer beat Kelly 106-88 votes, but the Republican council slate won, earning 298 votes to the Democrats’ 260. In that district, about 26 percent of its 751 registered voters went to the polls.

The proposed Catalpa Park sits in District 4 in Ward 1, but affects parts of Districts 5, 7, 8 and 10, also in Ward 1.

In District 4, which saw about 13 percent of its 942 registered voters head to the polls, Kramer beat Kelly 73-48 votes. The Democratic council slate bested their challengers with a tally of 205-147 votes.

District 5, where about 25 percent of its 749 voters went to the polls, was one of the few bright spots for Republicans. Kelly beat Kramer 101-85 votes, and the Republican council slate received 272 votes while the Democrats receives 262 votes.

District 5 was one of only seven districts won outright by Republicans.

In District 7, where about 16 percent of the 870 registered voters voted, Kramer beat Kelly 99-36 votes, and the Democratic council candidates easily beat their challengers 287-111 votes.

About 18 percent of District 8’s registered voters cast their ballots. Kramer beat Kelly 92-39 votes, and the Democratic council slate beat the Republicans by a count of 264-118 votes.

Finally, in District 1o, where about 19 percent of the district’s 820 registered voters cast their ballots, Kramer beat Kelly 90-68 votes. The Democratic council slate received 257 votes, while their challengers received 197 votes.

District 25 in Ward 4 had the highest voter turnout at nearly 32 percent, while District 33 in Ward 3 had the lowest, at just about 9.3 percent.

Mayor and Township Council Results – 2015
(Use cursor to scroll horizontally to see entire table)

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