TOMS RIVER – With division in the ranks, and Democrats winning more elections than normal, the new leader of the county Republicans said his first order of business is to unite the party, and his second order of business is to grow the party, especially among women and young people.
Frank Holman won the election to become chairman of the Ocean County Republicans in a vote held May 15. He narrowly beat Frank Sadeghi by a 25-vote margin, 254-229.
“We have a common cause here,” Holman said in a phone interview the day after the election. “We have to unite.”
Former party chair George Gilmore stepped down on April 24 after being convicted of three charges related to tax evasion with his firm, Gilmore & Monahan. This firm does a lot of work for local municipalities. His attorney, Kevin Marino, has said that he is seeking to overturn the conviction.
It had been said that Sadeghi had been endorsed by Gilmore, even though as a convicted felon, Gilmore can’t vote.
Holman confirmed that, and said he didn’t expect Gilmore to be as active in the campaign as he was.
The Republican party needs new blood, he said. Women are greatly underrepresented in public office, and that needs to change. They also need to recruit young Republicans to reinvigorate the party and take the wheel after people retire. To that end, he wants to institute a mentoring program, where experienced party members can groom up-and-coming candidates.
“We kind of lost a generation there,” he said. “We’ve been criticized as a party of old men.”
There is much at stake. Ocean County is still a Republican stronghold, but there are areas where they have been vulnerable. Congressman Andy Kim, a Democrat, unseated Republican Tom MacArthur for the 3rd District. This seat had been Republican for decades, barring a brief stint when it was held by John Adler.
Holman sees that there’s a risk of losing more ground. “A blue wave moved through Burlington,” he said about Kim’s win. To be fair, MacArthur had won Ocean but Kim’s votes in Burlington overwhelmed him. “The demographic in our state is changing.”
In Brick, the governing body only has one Republican, and he had recently switched from the Democrats. In Toms River, three Democrats won spots on the council recently (although one used to be a Republican and has since switched back). These two large towns feed into New Jersey’s 10th District, helmed by Senator James Holzapfel and Assemblymen Gregory McGuckin and David Wolfe. Wolfe is retiring this year, and will be replaced on the ballot by John Catalano.
Gilmore’s charges also haven’t helped the party, but it’s unclear whether those charges will actually matter to the rank and file voters.
Holman has big shoes to fill, to be sure. Gilmore was famously involved in many aspects of county and local government, had a line to Gov. Chris Christie, and even had Washington elites as guest speakers.
Holman said his style will be different, as he’s more of a delegator than Gilmore.
The message is that Ocean County is still a great and affordable place to live, he said.
Freeholder Director Virginia Haines said Holman will be serving the last three years of Gilmore’s current term and will have to run for re-election.
“Frank will probably lead a little differently,” Haines said, noting she supported him. He has history in this county. Family members have been mayor, sheriff, and freeholder going back decades. Besides his government work, he had been the treasurer for the organization for more than 30 years. He serves as president of Holman Frenia Allison, P.C., which does a lot of financial work for municipalities.
The election was held on May 15 at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena on the campus of Toms River High School North.
About 75 percent of the people registered to vote came out for it, said Tom Bonfonti, executive director of the county Republicans.
As opposed to normal elections, which are paid for by the county, a specialized election like this is paid for by the Republican club, he said. They rent the machines and the location, and pay election board staff. Bonfonti said he didn’t have the cost of the election handy.
After Gilmore stepped down, vice chair Barbara Lanuto took over as interim chair. With the new chairman, she has returned to be vice chair, Haines said.