Ridgewood challengers keep it civil

RIDGEWOOD – Anne Zusy recently registered as a Democrat to vote for Barack Obama. Paul Aronsohn likes Hillary Clinton. And Keith Killion, who’s registered as a Republican, is a John McCain supporter.

But the three stood outside of a post office in Ridgewood today to run as a team for three council seats, saying that the village needs new blood in its government. The fact that the three of them could run together, they say, is evidence how seriously this traditionally Republican town takes its non-partisan elections.

Their opponents are incumbent council members Betty Wiest, the town’s Deputy Mayor, and Jacques Harlow. Wiest spent most of the day at home calling supporters to get them out to the polls, while Harlow competed in a senior citizens’ tennis tournament, which he said would help take his mind off of the election.

At least one of the challengers will get a spot on the council, and a voice to choose whether Mayor David Pfund will keep his post (if he wants to) or whether he’ll lose those stripes and become merely another councilman.

Zusy said that she’s only focusing on the council election and hasn’t thought about whether she’d be interested in becoming mayor herself. Killion and Aronsohn both say that they’d prefer one of the council members with more experience to take the reigns.

As they paused to shake hands with the occasional passer-by and ask whether they voted yet, the three challengers lamented what they said was the slow pace of the village government.

“I’ve watched the council for quite a while, and there’s a failure to get things done in a timely manner,” said Killion, who’s retiring as the village’s Captain of Detectives in July.

Killion was upset to learn that he was lumped with Wiest and Harlow in a robocall put out by the county’s Republican organization – which both Harlow and Wiest, who said they had nothing to do with, have condemned.

“I am suspect, not necessarily of Betty Wiest but I’m suspect of the whole incident,” he said.

Aronsohn, who worked in the Clinton State Department, served as former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s press secretary and ran for Congress before taking on this decidedly lower profile task, also condemned the call.

“It’s injecting partisan politics into a non-partisan election,” he said.

That robocall was the first flare-up in what has been, up to this point, a race with about as much conflict as the average meeting of the county’s notoriously lock-stepped Democratic organization.

But this is not a Bergen County battleground, and things are generally kept civil in this upper-middle-class village.

“I think that Ridgewood is a town known for its gentility. Everything is kind of handled with kid gloves,” said Zusy.

To Wiest, the complaints about the glacial pace of council business are founded in unrealistic expectations. Only when you’re in the position, she said, do you understand all the hoops you have to jump through to do something as simple as, say, put a fence around a pool.

“It’s not that we’re not responsive. If you don’t dot your i’s and cross your t’s in the end, if something goes wrong it’s very difficult to get back on track,” she said. “Having been there for four years, frankly, until you’re in the spot, you don’t realize what you have to go through. And I can certainly list a whole page of accomplishments that we’ve managed to take to fruition.”

And Wiest, whose husband was mayor from 1986 to 1990 and is considered a potential pick for the spot if she wins reelection, would prefer not to address that aspect of the race.

“I’m not going to go there…. I haven’t made any claim or innuendo,” she said. “I’m here to tackle issues and try to do something for the village in a positive way.” Ridgewood challengers keep it civil