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Bishop to be named mayor of Neptune Township, N.J.

Mon, Dec 31st 2007, 09:12

From the Asbury Park Press.  

NEPTUNE — Township Committeeman Randy Bishop knows he's going to become part of New Jersey history Tuesday afternoon, but he's quick to downplay its significance.

Bishop, who will be sworn in at noon Tuesday for his second three-year term on the committee, is also expected later in the afternoon to be picked as mayor for 2008. When that happens, Bishop will be one of two openly gay mayors serving this year in New Jersey, and one of only three in the state's history.

But Bishop, who owns the Melrose Inn in Ocean Grove, doesn't want his sexuality to be the focus of his tenure as mayor.

"It really is a small piece of what makes me who I am," he said. "It's as much a piece of me as owning my own business, or having spent years in corporate America.

"Is it true that probably my experience influences how I approach problem solving? Yes, but they all play into that, and they all make me into who I am."

The list of openly gay mayors in New Jersey is short: Democrat Gina Genovese became the state's first openly gay mayor in 2005 when she was chosen for the position by the Republican majority on the Long Hill Township Committee. She no longer holds the office.

As in Long Hill, Neptune's mayor is chosen by the Township Committee.

In November, Tim Eustace, a 10-year member of the Maywood Borough Council, became the state's first openly gay mayor elected by popular vote.

Current Neptune Mayor James Manning Jr., who also won re-election this year, said Bishop does not follow a "gay agenda" in his policy decisions.

"Randy approaches everything as a caring "person,' " Manning wrote in an e-mail. "His lifestyle has nothing to do with him leading the township."

Bishop said he finds the attention being paid to him as a potential openly gay mayor "funny."

"But I guess it's still an oddity for openly gay people to be in elected politics," he said. "The same as for years it was probably true of African-Americans, of people of the Latino cultures, of Asian cultures. It's the oddity because today it's so few. Hopefully, it will come to the point where people aren't looked at as though they are in a box, but by what they bring to the table."

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality — a gay, lesbian and transgender rights advocacy group — said Bishop brings much to the table.

"He is so effective in what he does in public service, the fact that he is gay is not as important to voters as the fact that he is so capable, and that is the way it should be," Goldstein said.

Goldstein said the best thing a gay public official can do is be "the most effective public servant he or she can be."

Bishop's selection as mayor "is an extraordinarily important step for us in the gay community," Goldstein said. "It will encourage other lesbian and gay people to run for office, and further encourage politicians who are lesbian and gay but not open about it to be open about it."

Goldstein also noted that Bishop's selection as mayor comes at an interesting time in the township's history, in light of the controversy and lawsuits over the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association denying the use of the boardwalk pavilion for same-sex civil union ceremonies.

"If there is one thing that Randy Bishop is, he is fair," Goldstein said. "I think he will as mayor do what's fair and in the best interests of Neptune and Ocean Grove."

But Bishop said his role as mayor probably would have no effect on the outcome of that issue.

Bishop has set his priorities as mayor: He wants to rejuvenate any stalled redevelopment projects, firm up those still in the negotiation phase and start talking about building a township community center.

He said the committee will meet in a workshop session on Jan. 7 "to come up with our priorities so that we can keep those in the forefront, work toward them and help the professionals doing the day-to-day job in the town understand where we're going."

"I'm extremely honored by the opportunity to do this," Bishop said. "I know everybody says that, but being a kid who came from a pretty simple background, this is something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do."

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