Schroeder Won Point Pleasant Borough Mayor Partly from anti-Susan Rogers Votes
But Now He Has to Prove Himself to All Voters
Did Bill Schroeder become mayor of Point Pleasant Borough because he's Bill Schroeder or because he's not Susan Rogers?
"About 50-50," Schroeder acknowledged in a recent interview.
"Initially, I had a lot of anti-Susan Rogers support," said Schroeder, a Democrat speaking of his Republican opponent. "But then it seemed like people were reminding me more and more about what I had accomplished when I had been mayor. That made me realize I had support for what I had done." Schroeder, 63, had been mayor as a Republican from 1999 through 2002.
When asked about Schroeder's comment that the opposition vote helped him, Rogers said, in an email, that Schroeder did benefit from votes cast by municipal employees who felt she was too anti-union.
"This past election was a race of convictions and all about the union paycheck," Rogers wrote in her email. "A well organized front of the unions to preserve their contracts, future raises and benefits. It was clear I took an adverse stand against them and they obviously showed they can push back. Again, I put taxpayers first. My opponents wrote IOUs to the unions who funded their campaign and to special interest groups who didn't like me nosing around in school finances, their budgets or calling them on the carpet when I found things the public did not know about. It is that simple.
"I also note," she continued, "that I lost my first election running for council. I ran the following year and won. Times change, things and moments happen - so as for the future, I will on top of things and the goings-on at Boro Hall, the budget and new laws - certainly speaking my mind. I don't think of myself as a politician, I am a taxpayer advocate and I stand up for what I believe in, sometimes that is not always popular."
Schroeder has contended that he has pledged only to fairly balance the rights of employees with the needs of taxpayers.
Robert A. Sabosik, the only successful Republican Borough Council candidate this past November, agreed with Schroeder that his victory was a combination of both kinds of votes. While he agreed that some voters found Rogers too intense, he said he believes Schroeder's "great reputation" clearly helped him win.
"Bill is an honest gentleman who I think will do what's best for the town," he added. "We've met several times and we know we have to work together."
Schroeder, 63, is the rare politician who loses reelection for mayor and then, years later, gets elected for a second chance. Also rare is a borough politician who goes from Republican to Democrat and wins. Usually, politicians here, including Schroeder in the past, go the other way and have success.
Even more rare is a Democratic mayor or a Democratic majority on council here, which the Democrats will have, starting Jan. 2, for the first time since 1981, according to former Democratic mayor Peter Marone. He says his own stint as mayor, from 1979 to 1982, was the first and last time a Democrat was mayor in the borough until Schroeder is sworn in on Jan. 2.
In this past election, Schroeder received 3,779 votes, which was 998 more than the 2,781 votes for Borough Council President Rogers, according to the Ocean County Board of Elections.
Rogers at first seemed to have a lot of local support from residents who liked her budget cutting and strong leadership style. But, Schroeder said, some of the budget cuts backfired on her, especially when she spearheaded a council decision to force all municipal employees, except police officers, to take 12 furlough days and threatened police with layoffs. To avoid that, he said, they agreed to postpone salary increases.
Rogers responded in her email that Schroeder was correct, but she added, "He is the candidate that gave our Police Department and union personnel the richest contracts this town has ever seen. At his own hand, taxes increased over 60%. During my tenure on council I had in my first year a 1.8% increase - lowest in 10 years - I was the lone no vote in 2009 in which Democrats increased taxes 4% and in 2010 - with a Republican majority we produced a zero municipal tax increase."
Schroeder said taxes increased only five cents while he was mayor for four years and that the zero tax increase was a campaign decision that lacked long-range fiscal planning. He said he did not understand why there was no tax increase if the town was so poor that it then had to resort to furloughs.
"Last December, it got my attention that the newspapers were reporting that the town was on the verge of bankruptcy," he said.
Sabosik said he believes Rogers thought she had sound economic reasons for all her financial decisions, including the furloughs.
"Susan is a very hard worker and she's brilliant," Sabosik said. "She can dissect a financial report like an accountant. But I think in some people's opinion she was too strong in her delivery of the message. I think furloughs did leave a negative opinion in a lot of people's eyes."
Sabosik said since he has not yet served on council, he cannot say if the borough's financial state justified furloughs and threatened layoffs, but that he hears the borough's economic position is poor and that council will have to grapple with that.
Schroeder acknowledged being mayor isn't easy, and realizes he's going to have to make some tough budget decisions, too. For example, he said, he probably won't support raises for employees in the immediate future.
"But I don't want furloughs or layoffs," he said.
Balancing the budget with the rights and needs of employees will be just one of the challenges faced by Schroeder and the council. Residents will be waiting to see what he says and does. And some, especially those who don't really know him, will be trying to figure him out.
For example, first he was mayor as a Republican, now as a Democrat. So who is Bill Schroeder: a Democrat or a Republican?
He thinks about that question for a couple of minutes and then says, "I'm very conservative as a person. I'm conservative financially. I have a strong sense of morality and I have the backbone to have that sense. I don't like changes to happen overnight. But being a realist, I know things will change."
But what is your local partisan identification?
"I'm not feeling that on a local level, more on the state or federal level sometimes," Schroeder said. "Sometimes I see things as a Democrat. But there's a big difference between how older, traditional Democrats see things and how younger, more liberal Democrats see things."
There are also times he agrees with Republicans, such as agreeing with some recent financial decisions made by Governor Chris Christie. But he does not agree with the Republican concept of trickle-down economics.
"It doesn't work," said Schroeder, who also owns Yellow Brook Farms in Farmingdale, which sells trees and is expanding into vegetables and chickens. "I'm a strong people person. Things have to be done with people in mind.''
Not everyone would want to take on a mayoral campaign a second time. In fact, when Democratic Councilman Chris Leitner first asked Schroeder in March to consider running for mayor, Schroeder said maybe, but thought that he might prefer being on council. In the borough's form of government, council members vote, but the mayor only votes when there is a tie.
"The council is a lot more involved and gives more input," Schroeder said.
In May came the second Democratic meeting. Schroeder walked in to find Leitner with Christopher Goss and Robert G. Rusk.
"Chris Leitner introduced the other guys as council candidates and they told me, 'You're gonna be our mayor.' I said ok. Then I had to break the news to my wife, Bonnie. She wasn't very happy, but after a while, she understood the issues and changed her mind. She's been very supportive."
Schroeder said when he told the three men he would run he knew it would be an uphill battle. As the summer wore on, signs for the Rogers slate were all over town.
It seemed inevitable, to her supporters and detractors alike, that Rogers would be mayor. She had been a politically influential council president and had the powerful backing of the local and county Republican clubs, forces that have rarely faced defeat here.
By September, a few Democratic signs touting Schroeder and his council ticket starting popping up on lawns. By October, they seemed to spread like crab grass. It was nearly as typical to see a Schroeder sign as a Rogers sign.
After feeling like he was pushing a rock up a hill during the summer, when did Schroeder start to feel a shift?
"Around mid-October," he said. "That's when we were going into a lot of people's living rooms, talking to them and their neighbors. I was listening to a lot of people's questions and concerns and I started thinking, 'I can really win this.'
"I'll always remember one guy," Schroeder said, grinning ear to ear, "who was sitting in one of those living rooms. He looked at me and said, 'Why should I vote for you?' And I was just smiling because that's when I realized, this is all about me, not anyone else."
Schroeder realized he had to sell himself as the best candidate and that not being his opponent was not enough. He rattled off a list of actions he had taken as mayor and that seemed to satisfy the resident.
Campaigning ran through Election Day.
"I was calling voters from 9 a.m. to 4:30," Schroeder recalled. "I was mostly calling Republicans. I know so few Democrats."
While Schroeder won, his ticket was only partially successful in the close race for two council seats. Democrat Christopher Goss won with 3,229 but Democrat Robert G. Rusk lost with 3,187 votes. Republican Sabosik was the top vote getter with 3,295 votes. Republican Albert N. Faraldi lost with 3,152 votes. All vote totals, from the county Board of Elections, include absentee ballots.
Schroeder said he thinks Sabosik won because he has a strong support base having been a local businessman for many years. He owns M.E. Sabosik Associates Inc. on Bridge Avenue.
Sabosik said he believes he won because voters felt his business experience would help the council make sound fiscal decisions. He believes Schroeder won because he ran a good campaign.
"I think Schroeder and his ticket worked very hard going door to door and giving a positive message," Sabosik said. "I've met with him a few times. We all have to work together."
Hopefully, the campaign is really over.
"I've talked to the Republicans, they want to work together and that's my goal," Schroeder said. For Schroeder, working with Republicans may not be as much of a stretch as some might think. After all, he used to be one, although he didn't start out in the GOP camp.
When he was 18 years old, he registered to vote as a Democrat. In 1991, he registered as a Republican, served on council from 1994 to 1999 and then as mayor from 1999 to 2002. He did not run in the Republican primary that year, but ran unsuccessfully as an Independent for reelection in the general election.
"I got about 25 percent of the vote, compared to most independents who usually get about 5 percent," Schroeder said. After he lost, he registered as a Democrat. He said that showing and his recent political comeback is due partially to the partisan diversity of voters here.
"We have a larger group of Independents here than Republicans," he noted.
According to the county Board of Elections, there are 13,050 registered voters, with 6,517 Independents, 4,136 Republicans and 2,389 Democrats.
Now Schroeder needs to impress those who voted for him because he wasn't Rogers, those who voted for him because he's Bill Schroeder, and those who didn't vote for him at all.
How will he send a message that he is mayor for all the residents, regardless of their political preferences?
For starters, Schroeder said, he plans to have a more open government, with more discussion in public, including more workshop meetings. In January, the council will have workshops on the second and fourth Tuesdays which "will probably all be open," Schroeder said. After that, the workshops will be on an as-needed basis.
"I don't think anything can be rammed through without discussion," he said. "I want issues to be discussed in public and not have all the discussion in the back room and then the public hears only the vote."