No Somerset County Democrat has won a county office since Michael Ceponis won a Freeholder seat in 1979 -- until this Tuesday when Somerville Council President Steve Peter defeated County Clerk Brett Radi.
Courier News: The most shocking result of the evening came when Somerville Borough Councilman Steve Peter defeated Republican incumbent Brett Radi in the race for Somerset County clerk. Peter defeated Radi 43,511 to 43,383.
With his victory, Peter becomes the first Democrat to hold a countywide office in Somerset County in more than three decades since the late Michael Ceponis, also a former Somerville councilman, served one term as freeholder.
Home News: Election 2017 a Dem night to remember Somerset County Democrats should be thrilled today, and not just because of the inroads in the 16th, which includes seven county municipalities. Dems also broke through for a major county office for the first time in decades, as Somerville Councilman Steve Peter bested incumbent county clerk Brett Radi. Incumbent freeholders Brian Levine and Brian Gallagher overcame their own challenges, but only by a couple of percentage points, raising Dem hopes for 2018 and beyond.
TAPInto Somerville: Major Upset: County Clerk Brett Radi Defeated by Somerville Council President Steve Peter Democrat Steve Peter, president of the Borough Council, upset incumbent Republican County Clerk Brett Radi by a narrow 128-vote margin in Tuesday’s election for a 5-year term.
PoliticoNJ: Somerset, that staid GOP land of country clubs (including President Trump’s) and horse farms, narrowly voted for Murphy. Democrats even picked the county clerk site — their first county-wide win in Somerset since 1979. Sure, Somerset's been trending blue in national elections, but not recent gubernatorial elections.
InsiderNJ: Steve Peter wins Clerk's Office Clerk (D) Steve Peter 50%
Patch.com: Breaking: Newcomer democrat Steve Peter of Somerville won the county clerk seat There were two candidates vying for one five-year term as county clerk. Incumbent republican Brett A. Radi of Somerville lost with 43,383 votes while newcomer democrat Steve Peter of Somerville got 43,511.
NJ.com: A new clerk in Somerset County For the first time in more than three decades a Democrat will hold one of the top elected positions in Somerset County. Somerville Council President Steve Peter will be the new Somerset County clerk after defeating incumbent Republican Brett Radi by 128 votes.
For 35 years, the Somerset County Republicans have held every seat on the Somerset County Freeholder Board. Not having anyone to question them, to challenge their ideas has led to a lazy, get along to go along board running our county.
|The Somerset County Freeholders negotiated a 99 year lease to give away this 33,000 square foot mansion, a five-star restaurant, a working organic farm and 90 acres in the richest area of one of the richest counties in the world. We get only $150,000 a year in rent.|
They are so insulated and unquestioning that they haven't had a single nay vote in the three years since Brian Gallagher joined the "team". Alex Avellan and Shanel Robinson won't just vote yes at everything put in front of them, but will question and change bad deals until they become good deals.
A perfect example of how the GOP lock on the Freeholder Board hurts the county is the Natirar giveaway.
County taxpayers were promised the deal would start paying for itself in 2006 when a spa for the wealthy, a five-star restaurant, and private membership club opened and lease payments would increase. That didn’t pan out, the spa is still not open, and the county didn’t receive a penny until 2010 and then only received $150,000 a year. Meanwhile we spend $400,000 a year on debt payments and operations and upkeep.
From a property intended to pay for itself, to millions of dollars in losses? That’s not just a bad deal – it’s a backward deal.
Get all the facts Natirar - A Backwards Name, A Backwards Deal.
The Somerset County GOP has been sending out dishonest hit pieces using selective information, false accusations and sometimes outright lies to attack Alex Avellan, Shanel Robinson and Steve Peter. Here are their claims, and then the facts.
The hit piece against Alex states, "Alex Avellan doesn't own a home in Somerset County nor does he pay property taxes here."
More than 25 percent of Somerset County residents live in homes owned by someone else, yet Gallagher and Levine mailed out literature saying that not owning a home risks the "special quality of life" in Somerset County.
This slanted and dishonest attack is more proof that the Somerset County GOP is out of touch with the lives of Somerset County residents. For some reason they think that being a renter is a bad thing, or that not being able to purchase a home due to college and law school debt is a negative!
FACT: More than 25% of Somerset County residents live in a home owned by someone else, and don’t pay property taxes. The Somerset County GOP apparently thinks these constituents are second class citizens, and not worth caring about or supporting. Alex will work for everyone in Somerset County, not just those wealthy enough to own a home.
FACT: Alex earned a law degree and could have moved anywhere, but chose to come back to Somerset County to make a life. At a time when young professionals are leaving the county due to the nation’s 7th highest property taxes, he should be applauded instead of vilified.
FACT: Alex Avellan grew up in Somerset County, and attended Ridge High School. After college, Alex attended law school in New York, and while he was there he registered to vote as any good citizen should. After graduating with significant college and law school debt – something every parent and student knows is a major issue -- he moved back to his home town to begin his career. But the Somerset County GOP (who have cut funding to our community college 9% over the past five years while tuition and fees have risen 38%!) don’t care about the hardships faced by your Somerset County residents.
The second GOP attack against Alex also attempts to make the son of a Venezuelan father seem an outsider by noting that he was once registered in New York state, where he went to college.
FACT: Brett Radi is running for reelection for County Clerk, and part of that job is running the elections and knowing who is and who is not registered to vote in Somerset County. Alex Avellan is not only registered to vote in Bernardsville, but Brett Radi certified his votes for the 2016 presidential and 2017 primary elections. Either Brett doesn’t know what his office is doing, or he is dishonestly misrepresenting Alex’s record.
Natirar is not just Raritan backwards, it was a backwards idea that has already lost millions of dollars despite being “designed” to pay for itself
The GOP deal has advantaged the rich developers and their goal of creating an exclusive spa and club, while costing Somerset County taxpayers millions
The Somerset GOP claims the purchase Natirar was good for the county, but the hastily completed and ill-conceived deal has not gone as planned and continues to cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
County taxpayers were promised the deal would start paying for itself in 2006 when a spa for the wealthy, a five-star restaurant, and private membership club opened and lease payments would increase. That didn’t pan out, the spa is still not open, and the county didn’t receive a penny until 2010 and then only received $150,000 a year.
That’s $150,000 for a mansion, a profitable five star-restaurant, an invitation members-only club, an “organic” farm and 80 acres of some of the most expensive land in the United States. Meanwhile, the county is still spending $250,000 a year (and as much as $400K earlier) to pay off the debt and another $150,000 in parks upkeep and even more on policing and other ongoing costs.
From a property intended to pay for itself, to millions of dollars in losses? That’s not just a bad deal – it’s a backward deal.
FACT: In 2003, the County bought the Natirar property -- 500 acres in Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills and Bedminster -- for $22 million. The deal was initiated and completed in less than three months, with little planning or consideration of the financial implications. The result was the county was unable to find a partner, and had to foot the whole bill.
FACT: There was another group interested in the property, Bob Wojtowicz and Richard Branson, but only in the mansion, farm and outbuildings. They were looking to purchase the whole property, sell the rest off and keep just enough for a spa, high end restaurant and club. However, when Wojtowicz heard the County was rushing to buy, he took advantage of the County's haste by stepping away.
(Wojtowicz said,) "I went down to the county and talked to them about what their plans were.”
That conversation led to Wojtowicz backing out of the deal entirely.
“I thought it was a better idea to let the county buy it and try to strike a deal with them by pursuing a public-private partnership,” he said.
Not a better idea for the County, or the taxpayers. A better idea for himself.
Wojtowicz smartly walked away and let Somerset County use taxpayers money to purchase the property. Instead of going $22 million into debt himself and having to find ways to offload the parts of the property, Wojtowicz got a sweetheart deal where he has paid only about $1.3 million over 14 years. This while opening a fancy restaurant, high-end culinary school and operating a full functioning farm.
That makes Wojtowicz a great steward of his own dollars, and the Somerset County GOP a terrible steward of our tax dollars.
FACT: In August 2003, Wojtowicz and Branson inked a 99 year lease with the County for the north 90 acres, a 30,000 square foot Tudor style mansion, a number of outbuildings, a farm and more than a hundred cows, sheep and other farm animals. The county stated that the agreement would “allow the county to recoup most of its $22 million investment” beginning in 2006 when the spa opened. However, as reported by The Star Ledger in 2012:
Wojtowicz’s original hope was to finish the resort by 2006, but that date soon turned into 2009, 2010 and then this year.
It didn’t turn in to 2012. The Spa is still not open and the county is still not getting full rent payments. Instead, according to the 2015 audit of the Somerset County Investment Authority payments didn’t start until 2010, and then only at $150,000 per year.
To put how low that payment is for a restaurant, private club and mansion on 90 acres of land in the Far Hills area, there is a one acre home around the corner on Hidden Valley Road in Far Hills that paid $31,190.90 in property taxes in 2016. It would take just the five acres around the restaurant, spa and working farm to create a payment higher than we get now.
Add in the other 85 acres, mansion, secondary houses, occupied residences and we should be getting far more in payments.
FACT: The Somerset County Improvement Authority 2017 Budget includes $200,000 in principal payments and $96,000 in interest payments related to Natirar’s purchase. The Somerset County Parks Department 2017 budget includes $150,000 in costs for the upkeep of Natirar, but does not include policing or other operating costs.
FACT: Ten years after the Freeholders promised the taxpayers the Natirar deal’s costs would be absorbed Somerset County is spending more than $400,000 for Natirar and receiving only $150,000 in “voluntary rent payments.” That’s an annual operating loss of at least $250,000.
FACT: The $150,000 we’ve been getting from the 2003 lease since 2010 is pennies compared to what market rates would bring in. According to CommercialSearch, available commercial rents in Bedminster are between $12 and $30 a year per square feet. The Natirar mansion (forget the 90 acres of land, functioning restaurant, working farm, private club, two cottages, carriage house, and 4,000 square foot greenhouse) is 33,000 square feet. At Bedminster commercial rates, at the low end they would be paying the county $396,000 and at the high end almost a million dollars a year. So far Somerset County Improvement Authority audits say we’ve received $1.2 million dollars in the 14 years since the Republican Freeholders negotiated the deal, or just $86,000 a year.
|GOP Freeholder Director Peter Palmer celebrating the sweetheart Natirar giveaway with billionaire Richard Branson.|
The Taxpayer Supported Natirar Resort Is For the Elite, Not Regular Residents of Somerset County
FACT: The Natirar Club subsidized by Somerset County taxpayers is not intended to benefit most residents, but the richest. Here is how Wojtowicz describes the invitation only membership in his club on his website:
The Club at Natirar is a private membership club for people who share a passion for food, wine, adventure and the desire to be a part of a socially responsible establishment. The members have many opportunities to enhance and enrich their social, physical and cultural lives through the club programs and trips designed with the sole aim of creating amazing experiences for the members.
FACT: The restaurant, 98 Acres, also caters to the wealthy with “Farm to Fork” menus (the farm being the one they lease from Somerset County) and bottles of wine that cost up to $3,000.
Get your Somerset County Democratic ticket signs today, and support Steve Peter for County Clerk, and Alex Avellan and Shanel Robinson for Freeholder! Just fill out the form, and we'll deliver the sign by the weekend.
Posted by 1 reaction· November 09, 2017 8:25 AM ·
Posted by· November 08, 2017 10:29 AM
Posted by· November 07, 2017 11:23 PM