Top Republicans Fight For Leadership Tonight

George Gilmore and Michael Mastronardy (File Photos)

  OCEAN COUNTY – Two prominent Republicans seek to assume the lead role as chairman of the Ocean County GOP Committee later this evening.

  George R. Gilmore served as the chairman for 23 years and stepped down after a felony conviction. An attorney, Gilmore lost his law license and resigned from public office, including his chairmanship role and as head of the Ocean County Board of Elections.

  On the eve of President Donald Trump’s last day in office, the outgoing president pardoned Gilmore for felony convictions related to false statements on a mortgage application and failure to collect, account for and pay over payroll taxes. Gilmore was found guilty of the charges in federal court in January 2020. He had appealed and lost.

  The pardon has allowed Gilmore to reinstate his law license, although he’s not sure how he’ll use it at this point. Trump’s actions also remove any perceived bars from Gilmore seeking public office.

  Gilmore said he made no political contributions or any type of financial donation in exchange for the pardon. Meanwhile, his adversaries point out that former While House Political Director Bill Stepien once served as the Executive Director for the Ocean County GOP when Gilmore was chair.

  Gilmore faces Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy in the quest to head the Ocean County Republican Committee. Mastronardy is up for reelection himself and received more votes than any other candidate in the recent primary race. Notably, he ran unopposed.

  After Gilmore stepped down, the county Republican organization held a special election in 2019 to choose his successor. Frank Holman III, who now lives in Waretown, narrowly beat Frank Sadeghi of Toms River by less than 30 votes. Gilmore personally advocated for Sadeghi as his replacement.

  Holman announced his decision to step down as the Ocean County Republican chair earlier this year. He’s endorsed Mastronardy to take over to lead the GOP in Ocean County.

  Mastronardy said his goal in running for chairman is to stop some of the in-fighting that has become prevalent among Ocean County Republicans over the last couple of years.

  “We’re on a mission to get people back in the fold and get away from the underlying current of tension that has resulted a lot of negativity,” said Mastronardy. “We want to get people back working together so we are not wasting our efforts, and instead, concentrating on good governance.”

  The sheriff acknowledged that Gilmore encouraged him to run for his current position when he was retiring as chief of the Toms River Police Department. Mastronardy said Gilmore helped get him elected to the position during his first run.

  “This isn’t personal,” Mastronardy continued. “Unfortunately, George has some situations financially he has to straighten out. I think the average person looking at the whole picture would be concerned about someone with that much financial pressure. It’s not advantageous to be in the position of chairman with those types of problems.”

  Trump’s pardon of Gilmore alleviated some of his issues, including the need for him to serve time in federal jail. However, court records show that Gilmore owes nearly $5,000,000 in unpaid judgments with more to come. Much of the money is due to the Internal Revenue Service.

  Several elected officials have come out publicly to profess their support for Mastronardy as the Party Chair. A letter signed by all five of the Ocean County Commissioners strikes some insiders as confusing at its best.

  “Please know that this Board stands united,” reads the endorsement letter. “Not only for Mike Mastronardy and Barbara Lanuto as the best and honest choice for Chair and Vice-Chair but, more importantly, for good government.”

  Jack Kelly, Ocean County Commissioner Director, and Gilmore are business partners in a consulting firm. Gilmore helped many of the commissioners in their previous elections. Gilmore also ran two candidates to challenge the commissioners in this year’s primary. His candidates lost by a large margin.

  Gilmore says the reason he decided to seek back his old role was also because he wanted a more unified Republican party in Ocean County.

  “I’ve seen the organization split significantly because of fear of retaliation and reprisals,” stated Gilmore. “Even though I supported Sadeghi, I wrote a letter after Holman won. I told everyone we all had to get behind him and continue this great organization.”

  According to Gilmore, shortly thereafter, Holman had a meeting with John Bacchione, who was Berkeley Township Council President. Allegedly, Holman said Berkeley was “an island on its own” and would never get any money from the county committee. The county elites also decided against supporting Bacchione in his race against now Commissioner Bobbi Jo Crea.

  “Brick Township had a chance last year to win several seats on the governing body,” Gilmore said. “They haven’t won an election in twelve years because of some mistakes Republicans made when they were in power.”

  Gilmore claims the county decided they would not provide the Brick candidates any money because he and Jack Kelly were running the campaigns. Nonetheless, Gilmore said he, Kelly, and the Brick Republican chair raised over $100,000 and ended up winning a seat.

  Other issues in Manchester and South Toms River led Gilmore to believe that the current regime isn’t playing fair when it comes to doling out financial assistance. The formation of a new Republican club in Toms River served as further evidence that the party is split in Ocean County.

  Campaign materials sent out on Gilmore’s behalf claim that Ocean County Republican committee members from Barnegat, Berkeley, Brick, Manchester, Ocean Township, South Toms River and Toms River Regular Republican Club all endorse Gilmore.

  However, at least one local official who serves in one of the listed communities, says the local club never took a vote.

  The fate of the chairmanship role comes down to the votes of 737 Ocean County Republican Committee members elected in the recent June primary. While vacancies were filled by candidates, others were determined by write-in votes. Some districts have no representation.

  Committee members have the ability to vote in person at the main site at Ocean County College, or at two satellite sites. The Mainland Holiday Inn in Manahawkin and the Circle Time Daycare facility in Lakewood are both set up for authorized voters from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

  “All sites will be connected and results will be tallied, and images of the tapes from the voting machines from satellite locations will be texted to the County Clerk,” shared Pat Lane, Executive Director. “All Rules and Procedures will be posted at each site. There is no proxy voting allowed, and all must vote in person and show identification.”

  In the meantime, the contested race for the Ocean County Democratic Committee resulted in an extension of the 16-year tenure of Chairman Wyatt Earp.