POINT PLEASANT BEACH — Three candidates—Caryn Byrnes, Art Gant and Larry Schwartz—are on the ballot in this Tuesday’s general election, competing to claim two open seats on the Point Pleasant Beach borough council.
The three contenders for the two council seats are incumbent Republican Ms. Byrnes, newcomer Republican Mr. Gant and Democrat Mr. Schwartz, a newcomer.
Ms. Byrnes, a second-term incumbent, was initially appointed to the borough council to fill the vacancy left by then-Councilman Paul Kanitra when he was elected mayor in 2019. She was then reelected in 2020 to her first full council term.
In addition to serving on the council, Ms. Byrnes has a history of holding political office beginning in Hudson County. She studied at Jersey City State College, now known as New Jersey City University. While in Jersey City, Ms. Byrnes served as a committeewoman in the Ward A District and, at another time, as a code enforcement officer. Currently, Ms. Byrnes manages the front of the house at Daniel’s Bistro on Broadway in Point Beach.
Ms. Byrnes told The Ocean Star that her work “is not done.” If elected, she said that her goal is to continue addressing what she believes are the most pressing concerns among the residents of Point Beach.
“Keeping taxes low is my top priority,” she said. “We have improvements still to come for our beautiful inlet, we have a revitalized Channel Drive coming soon, an improved and repainted water tower about to start work, and preservation of the Coast Guard station to look forward to. I will continue to work closely with our police, fire, and first responders to ensure we maintain and grow our safe, family friendly community we all love.”
Mr. Gant, the other Republican candidate for council, is currently a small business owner. Mr. Gant served in the U.S. Navy for 16 years, graduating top of his class in communications. He is also a retired police officer and currently serves on the borough’s planning board.
Mr. Gant said that while campaigning, he reached out to numerous residents in an attempt to determine the most common concerns in Point Pleasant Beach.
“Throughout my campaigning, I have held fast to the idea that I can work well with anyone and that our town already has strong local government,” said Mr. Gant. “So, my plan for council is not to make sweeping changes, but rather to revisit policies that speak to the concerns of our townspeople.”
“While reaching out to the residents, I learned that there are a few main areas that most residents would like to see addressed,” he said. “They are as follows: an examination of building department policies, procedures, and management; improvement of sidewalks, crosswalks, and beach access points; and a revisitation of current parking conditions and policies.”
Mr. Schwartz is the only Democrat on the ballot for council this Tuesday. Now retired, Mr. Schwartz has worked as a writer and producer of NBC News and as a reporter for the New York Post. He has a degree in communications from the City College of New York and a master’s degree in education from Mercy College.
He lists his main priority, if elected, as “safeguarding” the tax money of the borough’s residents.
“The current administration has spent more than $650,000 in lawyer fees since 2021,” he said. “This is just one example of the reckless spending that’s taking money out of our pockets. No wonder our taxes continue to rise. It’s time for a change.”
Mr. Schwartz also listed “enhancing [Point Beach’s] quality of life” and “bringing integrity, responsibility and independence” to the municipal government as further priorities.
Currently in his second term as councilman, Mr. Vitale, a Republican and the sole mayoral candidate on the ballot, serves as the security outreach manager for the Northeast Power Coordinating Council, a nonprofit organization focused on maintaining the reliability of electrical service in the eastern United States and Canada. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
As mayor, Mr. Vitale said that his main priorities would include cultivating the relationship between the borough’s government and residents.
“It is my strong desire to foster trust between the residents and the municipal government, as well as strengthen the democratic process and our residents’ sense of ownership in the town’s future,” he said. He also put an emphasis on streamlining the process of passing ordinances and resolutions. “I plan to scrutinize our ordinances, aiming for increased efficiency and reduced restrictions.”
While working toward these changes, Mr. Vitale said that he wishes to also “maintain” the unique atmosphere of Point Beach, namely its appeal to families.
“I am committed to maintaining Point Pleasant Beach as the safe, family-friendly haven it has always been for future generations to enjoy,” said Mr. Vitale.
THE ROAD TO MAYORSHIP
Doug Vitale, the current council president, is running unopposed for the borough’s mayorship. The current mayor, Paul Kanitra, is not seeking reelection as mayor, but rather is running for state assembly to represent the 10th legislative assembly district.
The mayoral race has been a point of contention for several months, beginning in March when the Point Pleasant Beach Republican Club held a vote to determine the membership’s designated ticket. The club’s nominees were Ms. Testa, Ms. Byrnes and Mr. Gant.
In May, Republican Club President Glen Paesano sent The Ocean Star a statement, alleging that Ms. Testa and her council running mate, Mr. Gant, were not the true endorsed candidates by the club’s screening committee. He accused them of bypassing the club’s screening process by exploiting a loophole in the organization’s bylaws. According to Mr. Paesano, the Republican Club’s actual endorsees were Mr. Vitale for mayor and Ms. Byrnes and Dave Betten for council, the latter of whom lost the GOP primary in June.
“The Point Pleasant Beach Republican Club screening committee’s choice for Mayor was Doug Vitale,” Mr. Paesano said in the May statement. “These choices were made over several weeks with multiple meetings, interviews and background checks to provide the residents the best choice for our town.”
Ultimately, the winner of the GOP mayoral primary was Mr. Vitale with 511 votes, defeating opponents and fellow Republicans Ms. Testa with 329 votes and former mayor Stephen Reid with 318 votes.
The Point Beach Democrats are not fielding a mayoral candidate this election, leaving Mr. Vitale to run unopposed.
During the primary campaign season, outgoing Mayor Kanitra endorsed current councilwoman Ms. Testa to succeed him.
Mayor Kanitra told The Ocean Star Wednesday night that he is proud of his record as mayor, saying that it is his hope that the next group of elected officials in the borough continue what he sees as “positive impacts” as he himself heads into the general election Tuesday against Democrat Emma Mammano.
“My hope is that the next administration recognizes all the positives that they’re being left, and safeguards everything accordingly,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the potential opportunity to help Point Pleasant Beach in a new role.”
WHERE TO VOTE ON NOV. 7
Residents of Ocean County can find their polling location at oceancountyclerk.com/frmElectionServices. For Point Pleasant Beach residents, there are four voting districts at one polling location. The in-person polling location is Point Pleasant Beach Fire Company 2, located at 614 Laurel Ave. Polls are open Tuesday, Nov. 7 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.