MANCHESTER – The township had what was perhaps its most interesting municipal election ever in November with three candidates for mayor and six council candidates each vying for four-year-terms, but the end result was that the two highest mayoral candidates will end up presenting their case to voters again, on December 13.
What was to have been a runoff election on December 6 has now been pushed back a week. Acting Governor Sheila Oliver announced that runoffs statewide would be postponed to give officials enough time to prepare. Vote-by-mail ballots need to be printed and mailed. Notices must also be provided to certain parties. Schools will be allowed to provide remote instruction on that day if they were used as polling locations and the election will be certified by December 30.
For incumbent Mayor Robert Hudak and challenger Robert Arace it will be their third political matchup in two years.
Last year, Hudak faced Arace in a huge campaign. Hudak ran with fellow incumbent Councilwoman Michele Zolezi while Arace ran council contender Joseph Hankins.
This year, Hudak ran with Council President Joan Brush and Timothy Poss while Arace ran again with Hankins and his campaign manager from last year, Roxanne Conniff, for the two council seats up for grabs.
A third slate entered the race in the form of Ken Seda for mayor, and his council candidate team of Gloria Adkinson and Karen Sugden.
While Hudak and his team gained the most votes, they failed to earn the 50 plus one percentage of the votes needed to capture their positions. Arace and his team received the second most votes and thus will battle it out once more at the polls.
Hudak received 7,570 votes in the unofficial vote tally on Election night but that only represented 44.26% which was not enough for him to emerge the winner.
Challenger Robert Arace’s 5,354 votes represented 31.19%. Seda received 4,186 votes and 24.4% of the vote.
This served as a political rematch between Hudak and Arace and now both will go another round in the political ring. Both are Republicans but Manchester has a non-partisan form of government which has no primary race but involves petitions to get on the ballot with team slogans.
Hudak ran with the slogan of “Manchester First-Continued Good Government.” He ran with Brush who first came into office in 2017 after winning a special election to replace Brendan Weiner on the council. Brush received 7,019 votes. Timothy Poss is a member of the Township Planning Board and a Pemberton police sergeant. Poss earned 6,690 votes.
Despite the township’s form of government, politics did play a role in the race with George Gilmore, the longtime Ocean County GOP party boss who returned to his role in July after a two-year absence, supporting the Arace slate. Arace’s team was also endorsed by the Manchester Regular Republican Club.
Hudak and his wife Ellen live in the Pine Lake Park section of the township. They have three children and he is a licensed professional planner. During a mayoral candidate forum Hudak said, “taxes are usually the number one issue and this year we were able to eliminate about $2.7 million in wasteful spending from our budget and yet was able to restore our rainy-day fund of surplus.”
“One of my key initiatives is to use zero based budgeting which means every single purchase that we make is justified. I believe in justifying every dollar that we spend and ensuring every dollar spent means something to the taxpayers and that is how you keep the tax rate stable and how to ensure the budget is good for the next couple of years,” Hudak said.
The candidate also explained that “our volunteer firefighters had outdated equipment. Some of it was outdated since 2016. They were going to fires with faulty equipment. My administration was able to get them new equipment they needed and cancel out some bonds and we were able to double fund them in this year’s budget. A new ambulance was also included in this year’s budget.”
Hudak noted the importance of open space preservation saying over 300 acres of open space was preserved this year. “We just purchased another 16 acres off of Route 70 to stop housing developments on these properties.”
Arace was born in Livingston and grew up in Ocean County his entire life. He lived in Beachwood and attended Ocean County College and transferred to Monmouth University where he received a degree in finance.
He heads the Township’s Chamber of Commerce and works as a business consultant – a position that he said, “includes a lot of problem solving.” He noted, “that when it comes to Manchester Township my wife and I purchased a home in Holly Oaks because we really appreciate the rural and suburban characteristics of life here.”
Arace said he sees the population in Manchester growing in the years to come. “Over the next 15 years we are ultimately going to see a large population shift from east to west with a population increase in Ocean County with Toms River and Brick reaching capacity.”
As a result, many new residents will come to Manchester and smart planning was important. “I serve on the Township Zoning Board. We want to ensure the areas that can still be developed are properly zoned so we don’t have storage facilities and warehouses. We are not an industrial town.”
Brush also lives in Pine Lake Park and works as a local realtor and is a long-time community volunteer and helped form the township’s municipal alliance.
Poss serves as a sergeant on the Pemberton Borough Police Department and lives in the Fox Hollow section of the community with his wife Heather and two children. The life-long resident is also a coach on the Manchester Little League.
Conniff works in business development for a mid-sized technology firm. She previously worked for the state executive office which involved working with former New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and the State Economic Development Authority to help state and local municipalities attract more businesses.
Hankins has lived in Manchester for 53 years and is the Vice President of the New Jersey State Fireman’s Association. He served 25 years as a police officer in the township and has been volunteering as a firefighter for over 45 years.