TOMS RIVER, NJ – The Ocean County GOP machine was once a well-oiled syndicate where everyone discussed deals behind closed doors, then presented a united front in front of the public. Now, it’s an organization at war with itself and things are only going to get worse between now and the upcoming contentious GOP chairman election in June.
At odds are two factions of Republicans, those loyal to former GOP Chairman George Gilmore and those loyal to current chairman Frank B. Holman.
Insiders say both sides are working on a deal to make peace ahead of the upcoming 2022 midterms, but that treaty is uncertain and fragile.
Gilmore has announced his intention to run against Holman in the election to regain the chairman’s seat, but deals are in the works behind the scenes, even as Republican combatants battle it out in public.
On Wednesday, Virginia Haines, the oldest member on the five-member all-Republican county board of commissioners stripped the county’s two longest-serving Republicans of their duties, Jack Kelly and Joe Vicari. The two Republicans have been unstoppable over the past few decades, winning election after election, serving decades in office. Now, recently appointed and re-elected New Jersey State Committee Chairwoman Virginia Haines, now in her seventies, dropped the hammer on the two men. Haines said the old way of running the county is over and that she’s essentially the new sheriff in town.
Pre-planned behind the scenes by the Holman faction of the Republican Party, Haines sat in for an absent Jack Kelly to drop the hammer on Vicari. Kelly serves as the Commissioner Director, but Haines assumed the role to take on the burden of bad cop against Vicari while the Gilmore and Holman factions hash out plans behind the scenes to move forward, possibly even together.
This week, it was announced that Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy will be running for both Sheriff and GOP chairman at the same time, a move Holman is not pleased with, but Holman realizes his fading popularity in the party could pave the way for Gilmore to retake the seat. Holman is known as a hands-off absentee chairman who seems to be more concerned hunting wild game out west more than he is in running the now dysfunctional political party.
In consideration for Holman bowing out of the race, Mastronardy, a longtime ally of Gilmore’s was offered the chance to run. There’s just one catch. Insiders within the party say that for Holman to not run in June, Gilmore must also concede and the party will unite behind Mastronardy.
It’s not sure whether or not Gilmore accepted that offer, but in Southern Ocean County, Republicans would like to see Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato take the role, but the Holman faction would rather see Amato instead fired from his county position, so that deal seems unlikely to be approved by the Holman Republicans.
While Holman has settled old beefs with former Gilmore allies, offering them jobs, appointments, and public contracts to soothe their animosity in the northern end of the county, Holman has been unsuccessful in winning the hearts and minds of many Republicans in the southern end of the county where a Southern Ocean County Republican PAC was formed featuring many members from southern county towns.
As the GOP heads into the next few tumultuous weeks to decide which candidates the screening committee will pre-select for office, there’s much political bargaining to do, including possibly dishing out more public jobs, contracts and appointments in order to roll more favor into the Holman sect.
Things could get ugly if the deal falls apart and Ocean County Republicans could see the party split on the June ballot in the form of a primary as Haines, Kelly, and Mastronardy are all up for re-election. A younger, more conservative Republican ticket could win a primary off the line in Ocean County and it wouldn’t be the first time. In 2019, David Richter and Hirsh Singh defeated the Holman clan off the line in the Ocean County primary for Congress and U.S. Senate.
Jack Kelly called out on Wednesday, but it is suspected that a deal was cut that allowed him to let Haines have her way with Vicari in order for Kelly not to be pushed out of the 2022 election by the steering committee. Had Kelly been present Wednesday, Vicari’s blood would have been on his hands expose the fact that deals have been cut all around Vicari, without his knowledge.
Vicari pleaded with Haines for mercy, asking for a public discussion on his being axed from his liaison assignments, but Haines refused, dropping the guillotine on Vicari’s neck as GOP leaders sat quietly and watched Vicari’s public execution unfold.
Kelly, a supporter of Gilmore’s operates a political consulting firm with Gilmore at the ire of Holman and his allies. Holman has previously called for Republicans not to support the Gilmore aligned SOCAR PAC and to not patronize the Gilmore-Kelly political consulting firm.
Kelly, according to GOP leaders we spoke to was even offered public jobs to end his relationship with Gilmore’s consulting firm, but he reportedly turned those offers down.
Now, as the pieces on the chessboard begin to move faster and in public view, rook Vicari has been taken off the board as Queen Haines and King Holman decide which Gilmore pieces to go after next. One man in Holman’s scope is Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato for not completely folding into the mix. After Holman ordered the public job execution of Toms River Regular Republican Club Chairwoman Gerri Ambrosio, firing her from the Toms River Tax Board, due to her allegiance to Gilmore. After being fired by the Holman clan, Amato gave her a job in the Gilmore safe space of Berkeley Township.
Now, Holman wants them both out of the picture but knows he can’t touch Amato’s soaring popularity in his hometown, there are now talks of Holman ordering the firing of Amato.
Another Gilmore ally in the sights of Holman’s scope is Ocean County Business Administrator Carl Block. Block, depending on the outcome of the June election could be the next high-ranking Gilmore ally to be publicly executed. It’s not expected that Block will remain in his job after June.
Holman’s syndicate still has a lot of cleaning up to do in Toms River and Brick ahead of the election where pockets of resistance still exist. Holman has made amends with the Orthodox Jewish communities in Lakewood and Jackson after pledging undying support for Mayor Michael Reina, who is being sued by multiple Orthodox Jewish entities, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office and multiple county and municipal employees. Holman has also protected Reina from being terminated from his public job as County Bridge Supervisor. The board of freeholders in 2021 did not re-appoint Reina to the job, but he is still collecting a paycheck. It is unsure whether that job is a no-show job after Reina has been absent from the position for various reasons over the past year.
Reina, a longtime Gilmore backer switched to team Holman after Holman won the 2019 chairman’s race, seeing the writing on the wall and the eventual purge coming for those still loyal to Gilmore.
The idea of a showdown between old friends Gilmore and Mastronardy is unlikely and even more unlikely to end in a Gilmore victory as Lakewood, Jackson and Toms River voting county committee members line up to pledge their support behind the sheriff should he decide to run. Mastronardy’s popularity, gained from his time as police chief in Toms River and as Sheriff during Superstorm Sandy would give him a major edge against Gilmore.
A Gilmore vs. Holman battle royale could be a close race as both chairman jockey behind the scenes to rally support from voting members of the committee.
In essence, the entire Ocean County GOP, once the strongest Republican organization in New Jersey is now a complete shit show and the public can now smell the stink emitting from it.
Haines and her family has been on the public payroll since she was a child. As a young girl, she and her family living in county provided housing in Lakewood’s Ocean County Park. Haines lived in the park from the age of 2 to 11 as her father was a county employee.
Haines eventually married Dean Haines, who was mayor of Barnegat Township and went on to become the Ocean County Clerk at a young age. From there, Ginny rose through the political ranks, serving as the head of the New Jersey lottery from 1994 until 2002 when she also served in the state assembly. She then served on the Toms River Council before being propelled into her latest public job as a freeholder/commissioner.
Now Haines serves as a liaison for Ocean County College, yet does not possess a college degree.
Haines was born way back in 1946 in Point Pleasant and after living in her county housing at Ocean County Park eventually graduated from Lakewood Township High School. She attended Ocean County College but never graduated.
In a deal brokered behind closed doors at the office of former Chairman Joseph Buckelew, Haines was appointed to serve on the board of freeholders, in a deal endorsed by then chairman Gilmore. Now, bitter enemies Haines has been on a mission, along with Holman to purge the party of Republicans who remain loyal to Gilmore, even after Gilmore rescued her, setting her back up with a public job in 2016.
Haines also serves as a New Jersey Republican State Committeewoman, a position she has held since 2004.