By a margin of 829-292, Belmar voters repudiated the hubris of Mayor “Lawless Matt” Doherty on Tuesday.
In a special election to decide the validity of the pay to play/ethics law that the borough council approved shortly after Doherty became a candidate for Monmouth County Freeholder last Spring voters said NO to the mayor’s attempt to change the rules for his own ambitions. Doherty, a Democrat, had claimed that the new law had nothing to do with his candidacy for Freeholder. Rather, it was designed to make it easier for Belmar Republicans to raise money.
The law, which had it been approved by the voters, would have allowed Doherty to conceal contributions to his campaign for Freeholder in the amount of $300 or less and to accept donations from liquor license holders, developers and other vendors and professionals with business before the Borough and still take official action on that business. The existing pay to play/ethics ordinance in the borough prohibits those activities.
Doherty and Monmouth Democrat Chairman Vin Gopal have yet to blame the Monmouth GOP or MoreMonmouthMusings for the defeat, as is their custom when things go wrong for them.
Nor should they. The credit for this good government victory goes to former Mayor Ken Pringle and a small group of citizens, mostly fellow Democrats, who have stood up to Doherty’s lawlessness in the face of intimidation, retribution and other bullying.
The 30% turnout is extraordinarily high for a special election in September. In the special election for a United States Senate seat in 2013 only 7% of Belmar voters turned out to vote.
The Matt’s Law ordinance that the Belmar Council passed in February would have allowed Doherty to accept donations from borough vendors, professionals and liquor licensees and to accept secret donations in the amounts of $300 or less for his campaign for Monmouth County Freeholder. The current ordinance, which has been in effect for 12 years, prohibits those donations. A committee of Belmar citizens filed a valid petition challenging the ordinance under the Faulkner Act which the borough rejected with no explanation or legal justification. The committee sued and Judge Katie Gummer ruled that the new ordinance has never taken effect, that the old ordinance is “the law of the land” and that a referendum will take place on September 27 in accordance with the Faulkner Act.
New Jersey’s Appellate Court upheld Judge Gummer’s decision last month.