JACKSON, NJ – Jackson Mayor Michael Reina officially announced on Monday that he would be pursuing his dream of becoming a New Jersey Assemblyman. Reina became one of several Ocean County Republicans vying for the vacant seat of Ron Dancer who passed away from a chronic illness.
Reina was excited about the campaign, bragging that he had the necessary district 12 votes to push him over the line. Except on Tuesday, he realized he didn’t have the votes and dropped out of the race.
After meeting with a ‘trusted advisor’, reportedly a high ranking GOP official in Ocean County, Reina backed down from his decade long quest to become an assemblyman.
“I’ve made no mistake that one day I would like to represent the people of the 12th Legislative District as their assemblyman but after much consideration and in consultation with trusted advisors, I have decided today is not that day,” Reina, who holds a job with the County of Ocean as Supervisor of Bridges, earning $139,000 annually.
Reina said instead, he is going to focus on his re-election in Jackson and he has started a job there that he intends to finish. He also said he doesn’t trust anyone else to finish that job.
“As our population continues to grow and become more diverse and as businesses continue to invest in our community, there is simply too much at stake to trust the work to unsteady and untested leadership,” Reina said. “There remains much to be done and I intend to see the job through to its completion.”
The dig appeared to be a slap at Councilmember Marty Flemming who has been the only other candidate to express interest in running for Mayor against Reina.
Related: How Mayor Mike Reina’s Peace Deal Opened Door to Jay’s Bus Service Expansion in Jackson Township
In Ocean County, five others are now vying for that job, Jackson Council Vice President Alex Sauickie, former Jackson Councilman Scott Martin, Englishtown Councilman Daniel Francisco, Plumsted Township Councilman Dominick Cuozzo and former Toms River Councilman Brian Kubiel, now a Plumsted resident.
The seat has historically been an Ocean County seat and while Dominick Cuozzo appears to have the most support in Ocean County behind OC GOP Chairman George Gilmore, Monmouth County GOP Chairman Shawn Golden appears to be trying to block Gilmore from putting one of his followers in that seat.
Golden and Gilmore at best right now are frenemies after Golden supported his former Toms River Police Department co-worker Michael Mastronardy for GOP Chairman. Gilmore defeated Mastronardy in the July election for that position.
For Reina, he has been under criticism in Jackson for abandoning large portions of the community after doing a complete reversal on his policy regarding the expansion of Orthodox Jewish residents in his town.
For years, Reina had told residents “Be strong, Don’t Sell” to Jewish families looking to move to Jackson. He masterminded ordinances intended to ban Jewish schools, dorms, and eruvs. That action led Reina to be the key defendant in several federal and state civil rights investigations. In the fall of 2020, Reina appeared to be under FBI investigation after investigators with the agency’s Red Bank field office questioned several Reina associates about the mayor’s involvement in certain land deals in the township.
That case was stalled by COVID-19, political unrest during the pandemic, school shootings and other more pressing matters, a former agent with the FBI told Shore News Network earlier this year.
In recent months, Reina has bargained with the Orthodox Jewish community leaders in Jackson and Lakewood to begin digging himself out from under those lawsuits. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice settled its lawsuit against Reina and Jackson. The cases by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and Agudath Israel of America are still active.
In return for cooperation with the lawsuits, Reina’s two-year hold at his public job with the Ocean County Bridge Department was officially renewed, earning him a $30,000 raise. For two years, the Ocean County Board of Commissioners held back on officially re-appointing Reina to the job for fear of losing the Orthodox Jewish bloc vote in last month’s crucial GOP Chairman’s race. Hours before the election, the Board of Commissioners quietly promoted Reina at his public job.
Lakewood and Jackson county committee members backed Reina’s candidate, Sheriff Michael Mastonardy 71-9, but elsewhere in Ocean County, George Gilmore defeated the sheriff by a margin of nearly 100 votes.
If challenged, Reina, for the first time in 12 years will not be the favored candidate in the November election.
Chairman Gilmore declined to say who he was backing in the race when asked about Reina’s future in the Ocean County GOP. Reina had opposed the chairman during his election campaign. Reina had often referred to Gilmore as a ‘felon’ and ‘convict’ after abandoning Gilmore in favor of former Chairman Frank B. Holman during the past three years.
Reina was in attendance at Sheriff Mastronardy’s election night defeat dinner, but the next day began calling numerous Gilmore allies in Toms River to let them know he was now behind the new chairman.