HOWELL, NJ – With few remaining ballots left to be counted in Howell Township, Shore News Network is calling the election for the race between Mayor Theresa Berger, a Democrat, and Susanne Brennan, her Republican opponent. With a 2,300 vote lead, it is virtually mathematically impossible at this point for Brennan to make up the difference. Theresa Berger has won her re-election bid and will remain the mayor of Howell.
The loss for Republicans will sting as it will keep the mayor’s seat in Democrat control and will have the Republican party playing defense once again in 2022 as three seats are up for re-election.
In the council race, local business owner Andre DeGarmeuax has watched his lead vanish as last-minute mail-in ballots, as expected fell heavily on the Republican side of the aisle. With the start of provisional ballot counting on Wednesday, Evelyn O’Donnell’s lead is expected to grow as those ballots are also expected to heavily favor Republicans.
The race is a telling sign of the shift of priorities from party-line politics to community issues in the township experiencing another round of growing pains. The Republicans who control the township council have typically favored deals with connected developers, engineers, and architects that will bring about more future residential development in the town. Those developers and engineers funneled campaign donations to Republicans into the race through a Lakewood based political action committee.
DeGarmeaux ran close behind O’Donnell, trailing the Republican by just 177 votes as of 5 p.m. on Tuesday. For DeGarmeaux, anything can happen as provisional ballots start getting counted, but the odds are not in his favor.
The Howell Republicans also initially supported the Randolph Road transfer station, offering full support of the project until it became an election issue last year. Several members of the town council have since walked back their support of the facility which had been approved by the prior all-Republican mayor and council. Other Republicans who supported the facility no longer serve on the council.
The last remaining chip on the table in Howell is what to do with embattled Business Manager Brian Geoghegan. The reality is that in Howell’s form of government, Geoghegan wields more power than both the locally elected mayor and council. That power was on display earlier this year when Geoghegan, a lifelong resident of Toms River, in Ocean County unilaterally shut down the township’s park system without prior consent from the mayor or council. He also came under fire for his involvement in a costly whistleblower harassment lawsuit and payments made to a no-show township executive this past summer.
He will most be remembered as the guy who took it upon himself to shutdown the township park system and organized youth sports in September. That action raised more than a few eyebrows in town as residents realized the power held in their community by a politically appointed outsider.
Geoghegan was hired in 2017 with a base salary of $135,5000. In 2018, the Republican council increased his base salary to $160,000 per year. Geoghegan who is a retired Jackson Township Police Officer does not take health benefits from the township but does receive an additional $10,000 stipend paid for by the taxpayers for not taking those benefits.
According to the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System, Geoghegan receives between $96,000 and $136,000 in public pension payments and benefits annually, making Geoghegan by far the highest-paid public official in all of Howell Township.
One political consultant with the Monmouth County GOP told Shore News Network that even the township Republicans would like to see Geoghegan gone at the end of 2020, but the majority led Republicans will have to decide on Geoghegan’s annual contract renewal later this year.