By Frank Capece
Mike Altmann picked the border street of Skyline Drive in Clark to walk on Sunday, spreading his message that a change in local government is needed. A Democratic challenger for one of three councilman-at-large seats he is trying to unseat a long standing Republican majority.
He knew it wouldn’t be an easy day on a street with a GOP voter registration edge. It literally sits on the border, with some properties actually paying taxes partially to Woodbridge and the rest to Clark.
Altmann is an interesting fellow. He walked away from a dream job working for the Disney Company on their then blockbuster “TGIF” Friday schedule for the ABC network. He opted for a career in his passion of teaching.
For the first of a few times this day, Altmann describes wanting “to make a difference” as the reason he left broadcasting and has spent 17 years, the past 11 in Westfield schools, teaching drama and speech.
Walking on Skyline Drive, the long standing problems of a pass through the street come to light. The wide roadway and the quicker access to Clark and the parkway make it an attractive shortcut. Altmann predicts a short-term, even greater problem when the condo project a stones throw away at the old Mieles Garden Center comes to fruition. It was that proposed project and his anger with the treatment by the ruling Republican majority which motivated Altmann to run for a Council at large seat.
One resident says, “the problem of the traffic is becoming more important as my kids reach school age.”
Next door, Altmann connects with a voter who owns a store in the candidate’s native Union township where he shops.
Beyond the traffic problem, Altmann hammers on about the Republicans on the township council, who despite their part-time jobs, cash in on health benefits. He places the taxpayer tab at $225,000 yearly. When pressed by a resident, he pledges to vote to eliminate the perk if elected.
She smiles. “That’s good because it has irritated me for some time.”
One resident says he is angered that paying taxes online brings with it a service charge. “Why create such a bad vibe?” he questions.
With both a B.A. and Masters, the speech teacher knows how to connect at the doorstep. He tells a resident he is running because, “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t believe it was right.” He often tells the voters about what he sees as a confrontational attitude by the incumbent Mayor.
Beyond the wide streets, a brief walk shows that paving contractors did very well in the neighborhood over the years putting in stone driveways. The vehicle of choice at many households are SUV’s.
A number of households know that the Mayor, Sal Bonaccorso, is a three term incumbent. “It may just be time for a change,” one woman quips. Altmann asks for permission to place a political sign on their lawn. In Clark, political signs mean a great deal. “Sure why not,” says the husband while carrying a few cases of soda he obviously got at a sale.
Altmann hands out his palm card which includes, “Eliminating unnecessary and expensive perks and benefits paid for by your taxdollars.”
With the street completed and the sky threatening rain, Altmann jumps in his car to check on the Jets score.
“It’s tough missing the football games on Sunday, but I want to make a difference in Clark,” he said. Knowing he has already staked out this ground he adds, “It’s what I do.”