Election Day is still about three weeks away, but the fur is flying and the gloves are off in Old Bridge
OLD BRIDGE — Republican Mayor Owen Henry appears to be on the ropes in his battle for a second term against Democrat William ‘Bill’ Cerra, the retired police captain who has made an issue of the GOP incumbent’s severe reductions in law enforcement and weak performance against crime.
In Henry’s first few weeks on the job in 2012, he fired ten Old Bridge officers, which combined with attrition resulted in a 15 percent staff reduction, bringing the police department to its lowest manpower levels in 30 years.
Consequently, Old Bridge police solved only 28 percent of the crimes reported in the township last year, according to records maintained by the state Department of Law and Public Safety.
On the Old Bridge Republican’s website, Henry decried what he called “Cerra’s lies” but points out that the average number of officers during his administration, 85, is about 15 percent less compared to the 99 cops on the force during the tenure of his predecessor, the late Democratic Mayor James Phillips. Retirements brought police manpower down to 94 officers at the start of Henry’s term as mayor but instead of hiring replacements, the Republican laid off ten more officers.
The Republican is taking credit for a smaller number of crimes, which merely follows a national trend that began in the 1990s, but he ignores the more dramatic nature of offense that have occurred during his time in office. For example, a deranged gunman shot and killed two Pathmark employees before turning his weapon on himself in 2012 and police have not cracked the case of a 22-year-old resident who died after being shot nine times earlier this year.
At least two police officers currently working for the township have found themselves targeted for internal investigations after they exercised their constitutional rights concerning the campaign.
Bob Brown, the attorney representing police officer Robert Kurzydlowski, said the township launched a “groundless misconduct investigation” targeting his client because he is running as a Democratic candidate for Assembly.
At the same time, another township police officer is being subjected to retaliation for writing a letter to the editor exposing untruths about law enforcement staffing that have been spread around by Councilman Brian Cahill, one of the mayor’s political allies.
Officer Vincent Galgano sent a letter newspapers correcting Councilman Brian Cahill, who claimed that there are more police officers today than there were when Republicans took control in 2012.
Sources say Galgano is also being targeted by an internal investigation. Kurzydlowski and Galgano could each be entitled to recover substantial penalties at taxpayer expense if they show the mayor improperly abused them on the job in retaliation for their First Amendment freedoms.
As a retired police captain with decades of experience on the Old Bridge Police Department, Democrat Cerra says he has unparalleled ability to make the community safe again. He also claims to have a plan for action that will save lives and keep taxes stable.
Cerra is running with council candidates Tom Galante, Jack Gillick and Deborah Marquez. Also in the Democratic column are Old Bridge residents David W. Merwin and Kurzydlowski, the nominees for General Assembly, and County Clerk Elaine Flynn.
With a heavy mix of local residents topping the Democratic the ballot in the township where the party typically dominates, Cerra is favored to win but there are concerns about the low turnout predicted in this year’s election. Henry is fiercely trying to unify Republicans, who fractured over a divisive primary campaign, as he seeks a second term.
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