TOMS RIVER, NJ – Battle plans are being discussed and war rooms between two rival factions within the Ocean County GOP are beginning to buzz. The forces allied behind former Ocean County GOP Chairman Frank Holman and current GOP chairman George Gilmore are preparing for all-out war.
The stakes for the players involved are control of tens of millions of dollars in public contracts in towns like Toms River, Brick, and Berkeley Township. All three towns are facing possibly bitter Republican primary elections to the delight of Democrats looking for a way to get themselves into towns traditionally seen strictly as Republican strongholds.
With the absence of Holman, who has since moved out of state, according to sources, pay-to-play lawyer Gregory P. McGuckin has assumed the commander’s seat in the civil war.
McGuckin seeks victory not only for himself but his law firm, which holds at least 21 public contracts, most of them spoils of war in the three-year battle between Holman and Gilmore. He is also running for re-election and most likely will not get the party line in June’s GOP primary election as Gilmore begins assembling his own team for battle.
With supporters split down the middle, the primary election could make strange bedfellows, with opposition forces deciding whether to stay on the party line or stick with their own team in the feud that shows no end in sight.
Typically the Ocean County Commissioner’s seats, which rarely are available due to decades-long incumbents being handpicked by chairmen, are simply formal affairs when it comes to endorsements.
This year, three men are vying for the seat vacated by Joe Vicari. Those candidates include developer Frank Sadeghi, Berkeley Township Councilman James Byrnes, and former Point Pleasant Councilman Michael Thulen.
Gilmore also appears to be challenging McGuckin for his 10th District Assembly seat after two of his handpicked underlings have also announced their intent to challenge the defacto opposition leader and his running mate John Catalano, a Brick Township jewelry store owner.
Those opponents are Cathy Lindenbaum, Gerri Ambrosio, and Ashley Lamb. Ambrosio and Lamb are aligned with the Gilmore faction of Republicans.
Amid pending litigation involving as many as two lawsuits, Joe Vicari announced he would not be running for re-election this year after being in office for 40 years.
Democrats are hoping the GOP war in Ocean County depletes funds and allows Democrat candidates up and down the line to take advantage of the current dysfunction within the GOP ranks. Once seen as the strongest GOP organization in the state, the Ocean County GOP has become nearly an embarrassment after four years of infighting and feuding over political appointments, public contracts, and egos.
Gilmore and McGuckin are expected to do battle with each other in municipal races in Toms River, Brick and Berkeley Township, where mayors’ seats are up for grabs along with several council seats in each town.
In Toms River Gilmore and McGuckin will do battle against each other for the mayor’s seat but Toms River Councilman Dan Rodrick, hoping to be seen as the voice of reason as the two pay-to-play adversaries do battle has announced he will also be running for mayor against Mo Hill and whoever his now decertified Toms River Regular Republican Club endorses.
Hill is a widely unpopular mayor and is not expected to win in a Republican primary in Toms River.
In Berkeley Township, Mayor Carmen Amato has announced he is running for state senate along with Councilman James Byrnes, leaving the Berkeley Republicans without Amato on the ticket. Amato has been responsible for several key victories for Berkeley Republicans over the years.
In Brick, Democrat Mayor John Ducey will not be running for re-election as he was appointed to become a judge by Governor Phil Murphy. The “Ducey Team” was successful in flipping the traditional Republican stronghold of Brick and has maintained power for nearly a decade now.
Only one thing is certain. The GOP primary season in Ocean County is going to be an ugly one with bitter rivals engaging in a no-holds-barred blood sport.