Thursday, November 06, 2003

Below is a reprint of a Courier-Post story originally published on October 24, 2005.
Golf cart on street debated in Winslow

Courier-Post Staff

As a former Winslow police officer and the township's current director of public safety, Democratic Committeeman Barry M. Wright might be expected to know that golf carts are not permitted on public streets in New Jersey.

In fact, Wright contends just the opposite.

"That golf cart, or electric mobility device, helps me get around to meet with all my constituents," Wright said during the Winslow Township Committee meeting Oct. 11. "And . . . it's not against the law. I did check that out to begin with."

The basis for Wright's legal opinion is unclear and he could not be reached for comment. But when asked about using a golf cart, a spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Commission, said, "You can't operate it on public roads."

"If the vehicle cannot be titled and cannot be registered, it cannot be operated on public roads. And that is what a golf cart is," said the spokesman, Gordon Deal.

Wright, who is running for re-election, had been using the golf cart for campaigning. Republicans caught wind of it and eventually Paul S. Kaplan found Wright, 52, knocking on doors and driving the golf cart in the Woodstream development off Hayes Mill Road earlier this month.

Kaplan is a GOP member of the township planning board who often serves as a driver for his friend, Republican Mayor Sue Ann Metzner, who is legally blind. He photographed the committeeman in the vehicle and posted the image Oct. 10 on his blog, UNofficially Winslow.

The next day, at the township committee meeting, Wright brought up the topic and made an impassioned defense of his use of the golf cart, accusing Kaplan of harassment and stalking.

"We got four more weeks to finish this election. You know, let's get rid of the lies, innuendos and the stalking stuff, and let's just have a clean election. Stop the mud-raking and get on with the government," Wright said.

But Republican Committeeman Albert H. Cooper declined to drop the issue. He initiated the following exchange:

Cooper: "It's stone-cold illegal. If it can't be tagged, it can't be insured. What you're doing, even though it might come to the low level, is criminal. And as director of public safety, you know that. You were a police officer for 25 years or so."

Wright: "Twenty-seven, to be exact."

Cooper: "Twenty-seven, to be exact, so you know better. I can't believe you brought it up."

Wright: "I checked it through DMV (the Motor Vehicle Commission) and an attorney and a municipal court judge, who all say that it is legal and it is exempt."

Cooper: "Who was the judge?"

Wright: "I'll give you the judge's name. I'll give you the whole report and I'll have that for you by tomorrow."

Cooper: "It wasn't (Winslow Municipal Court) Judge (Michael A.) Diamond, was it?"

Wright: "No, but if it was Judge Diamond, whatever. I mean, he's judge in three municipalities."

Cooper: "Yeah, but you guys are buddies and all. Come on."

Wright: "Come on."

The mention of Diamond relates to another twist in this story. Also on Oct. 10, Wright was involved in an automobile accident on Route 73 South in Winslow, police records show.

Wright was driving his pickup truck and towing the trailer he used to transport the golf cart, although the cart was not aboard at the time. The trailer is registered to Michael A. Diamond.

Diamond, the judge, could not be reached for comment.

In its public filing Oct. 11, Winslow Democrats 2005, the candidates' committee financing Wright's campaign, did not report any in-kind contributions, such as Diamond's providing to Wright a trailer for campaign use.

If the trailer is owned by the judge, Diamond may have run afoul of the state Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits judges from making "a contribution to a political . . . candidate."

It remains unclear how the dustup over Wright's use of a golf cart will affect the Nov. 8 election. Four races will determine control of the township committee, where Democrats hold a 5-4 majority. Wright faces challenges from Republican Nick Losasso and independent Paul Evans in Ward 2.

One township resident said driving a golf cart in the street, at the very least, raises safety issues.

"We have so many kids in our neighborhood who ride on the street and play in the street," said Quoshima Hill, 26, a student and stay-at-home mom. "They don't let the dirt bikes out on the street and that's about the same size. It's a golf cart. Use it on a golf course."

Reach Erik Schwartz at (856) 486-2904 or
Published: October 24. 2005