BELMAR — In the race for a single Belmar borough council seat on the Nov. 7 ballot, the sharpest exchanges have been over Republican candidate Sean Patrick Di Somma’s insistence that Councilwoman Caitlin Donovan’s work for a nonprofit, advising patients of their health care options, makes her a “lobbyist.”
Ms. Donovan clarified that her two-year employment as an actual lobbyist was 15 years ago and that her current work for the nonprofit organization Patient Advocate Foundation consists of creating educational materials for patients navigating the health care system, assisting with grant writing and running the nonprofit’s social media accounts and website.
“He’s been trying to make this claim that since I’m nonprofit, that’s lobbying, but it’s not lobbying, it’s a completely different job,” Ms. Donovan said. “There’s absolutely no truth to that allegation and it’s bizarre; he’s been corrected and he keeps digging in.”
In an interview with The Coast Star, Mr. Di Somma continued to claim that there is no distinction between the two chapters of Ms. Donovan’s resume. “They’re one in the same, it’s a distinction without a difference,” he said.
In council meeting public comment sessions, he has gone further, describing his opponent as a “DC lobbyist” despite her career change. In a heated exchange during public comment at last week’s borough council meeting, Mr. Di Somma told Councilwoman Donovan, “you claim that you’re a patient advocate when, in fact, you are and have been a DC lobbyist for around the last 15 years.”
“That is not true,” Ms. Donovan replied, “and it is very easy to look up because if you are a lobbyist you have to register with the federal government.” She clarified that she had previously worked as a lobbyist in Washington, DC, approximately 15 years ago for about two years before deciding to leave, eventually moving on to work for the national 501[C] charity, which disqualifies her from lobbying.
Her response was met with applause from the audience, after which Mr. Di Somma left.
Later in his interview with The Coast Star, Mr. Di Somma continued the theme, however, dismissing Ms. Donovan’s description of her current occupation by saying, “She doesn’t actually say what she is or what she does, she claims she works for a nonprofit, she claims she works with patients and all of this other stuff.”
Another flash point in the campaign has been Mr. Di Somma’s claim that the borough plans to exceed compliance with court-ordered affordable housing goals for the purpose of building what he describes as “low income” projects in Belmar.
Council President Mark Levis confirmed for The Coast Star that no such projects are planned in the borough at this time. “There’s been proposals for affordable housing but a lot of that is attorney-client privilege right now, so we’re not allowed to discuss it publicly,” he said.
According to the borough’s redevelopment attorney, Frances McManimon, the borough is in the process of negotiating the borough’s current affordable-housing obligations as part of a declaratory judgment action that was filed by the borough before Judge Grasso Jones of the state Superior Court Freehold.
“The borough is working together with Fair Share Housing and the court-appointed special master to determine the obligation,” Ms. McManimon said. “Once there is a determination as to what the obligation is, the borough will then proceed with their plan to meet the obligation.”
Mr. Di Somma alleges that his opponent has a plan to build low-income housing projects that he believes will be included as a requirement as part of a settlement with Fair Share Housing.
“What my opponent and what the mayor have done is they’ve gone out directly to Fair Share Housing … we have an [affordable housing] obligation but it’s small, we do not have a large number obligation; Fair Share Housing will give that to us,” he said.
Ms. Donovan disputed this, however, and explained, “The problem here in Belmar is that we don’t [currently] have any type of affordable housing plan, and without a plan in place we are very vulnerable to builders’ remedy lawsuits.”
She explained that such lawsuits could enable a developer to propose a largely market-rate housing project and gain approval by including some units that meet affordable housing levels set by the courts.
“That’s what we’re trying to prevent, we are trying to do the opposite of what he is claiming,” she said.
Ms. Donovan, a Democrat, is running for a full term as a borough councilwoman. She was previously nominated by the Belmar Democratic Committee and borough council to fill the unexpired term left by the resignation of then-council president, Thomas Brennan, in June.
Ms. Donovan is an alumni of Wall High School and received a bachelor’s degree with departmental honors in comparative politics from Brown University, with graduate work completed at Johns Hopkins University. She is currently employed as senior director for Patient Advocate Foundation and is married with three children.
“I have been putting in the work every single day for Belmar – doesn’t matter if it’s Verizon, if it’s the lakes or if it’s just communication or transparency,” she told The Coast Star. “I am working with residents and I am working with our elected officials to make things happen for Belmar and I will continue to do that because Belmar matters to me – it’s my home.”
SEAN PATRICK DI SOMMA
Mr. Di Somma, a Republican, is running for a first term as a borough councilman. He was recently nominated by the Belmar Republican Committee to run in the election following the withdrawal of elected-candidate Victoria Renner, who won the GOP primary in June.
Mr. Di Somma attended Rider University and is a tech entrepreneur. Born in 1982, he has coached in community youth soccer programs and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. He is currently employed with Card Shop Live, Inc. and has one daughter.
“I think the town has a lot of buyer’s remorse after the election last year,” he told The Coast Star. “The borough is currently headed in the wrong direction and I don’t feel great about it. As someone who plans on raising my daughter here and hopefully my daughter will decide to stay here… it’s really troubling and it’s really the reason I decided to run.”
WHERE TO VOTE ON NOV. 7
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7 in Monmouth County. In-person voting for Belmar residents will be at the Belmar Municipal Building Court Room and Gymnasium, located at 601 Main St., from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
More information about polling locations can be found through the county’s election website at monmouthcountyvotes.com/voter-information/polling-places. To search the state’s website for all available polling locations, visit voter.svrs.nj.gov/polling-place-search.
This is an excerpt of the print article. For more on this story, read The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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