Election Day was a cakewalk compared to GOP war in Burlington

Already locked in a mano-a-mano with potential U.S. Congressional candidate State Sen. Diane Allen, GOP boss Glenn Paulsen is now trying to fend off another prong of an uprising launched against him and his allies by Allen-ally Dawn Lacy, the party’s acting county chairwoman.

A spat between the acting party chair and former chair boiled over after the election, when Lacy dismissed Paulsen confidants Bill Layton and Chris Russell, then secured party documents that she saw as the rightful purview of the acting chair and not Paulsen’s surrogates.

“We need to professionalize this organization,” says Lacy, who took the party’s books out of the headquarters housed in a building owned in part by Paulsen.

“We need a transparent and inclusive process because it has become ugly and stressful,” she says.

Paulsen is the former chairman of the party, but the boss continues to wield tremendous power. According to Lacy, who became acting chair in April with the resignation of Mike Warner, Paulsen’s presence means that “People have been marginalized in their roles as county committee people.”

Says the boss, “I don’t think there’s any power in my hands other than what people believe I can deliver. I worked my socks off in this election, and I came back because I saw our party going in the wrong direction.”

Even as district 7 Sen. Allen was taking phone calls today and mulling over a Congressional run, Paulsen said he’s calling for a meeting of the party’s municipal chairs to be held tomorrow, to discuss the scheduling of a special meeting of the county chairs to elect a permanent county chairperson.

“We’ve got a GOP primary in June, and we can’t relax, especially with the announcement today by Congressman Saxton (see related news story this page),” says the Republican boss. “Now do I think Bill Layton should be the county chairperson? Yeah, I do. I see the effort he’s made over the last several months to fight the Camden Democrats and prevent them from coming in here. We’re talking about a tremendous victory on Tuesday, probably the biggest victory since 1991.”

He credits Layton and Russell for a good piece of that victory. But Lacy believes keeping them around in power roles would run counter to the party’s best interests.

Getting rid of the pair wasn’t a malicious act, the acting chairwoman insists – just necessary to preserve the integrity of the process. Sensing that she was being played for a ceremonial rollover, Lacy says she needed to assert herself as a legitimate chairperson.

“It was not meant to be hostile,” she says, describing the action as a necessary part of any campaign that comes to an end. “But as soon as I sent them the letter, the phone campaign of retaliation started, and Glen’s people began trying to depict me as a power-crazy figurehead.”

The Republicans romped to victory in Burlington County, with a sweep in the 8th, an Allen steamroller in the 7th district senate race, and beat downs across the board of freeholder races. Russell and Layton wanted party members to know they were a part of that – indeed, two of the chief architects.

But Lacy was distrustful and sees an opportunity with Allen and others to forge a new party identity separate from Paulsen.

“There was a plan to ease in and take control while people weren’t paying attention,” she says, and that wouldn’t have reflected a countywide desire she senses to move away from the boss’ domination.

Lacy says the district 8 legislative candidates were unhappy during the campaign with the influence of Paulsen’s people. They felt muzzled, Lacy says, and strait-jacketed into the Paulsen agenda.

“The candidates had no input on issues they felt strongly about,” she says.

Then there was that business about a certain inflammatory mail piece that spawned a backlash of statewide negative news coverage. Issued by Russell’s Traz Group, the mailer went after Democratic Party Assembly candidate Tracy Reilly, or more specifically her attorney husband, by suggesting that his legal representation of an alleged terrorist placed Reilly on the wrong footing for representing the 8th district.

“The candidates saw the mailer when it hit the mailboxes,” Lacy says. “No one had any say. No one knew who was running the show.”

A day after Lacy dismissed campaign chair Layton and campaign manager Russell, Allen, District 8 Sen.-Elect Phil Haines, Freeholder Director James K. Wujick, Freeholder William S. Haines, and Sheriff Jean E. Stanfield issued a letter to the county and municipal chairs backing up Lacy’s actions.

“What Dawn Lacy wants to do is open the party up and empower people to be involved,” says Allen, who today found herself at a crossroads in her political career with the impending retirement of Saxton, as the Republican National Committee called Allen as his most likely successor.

But as Allen fortified her support for Lacy, today Haines backed down and sent out a letter recanting his initial statement of support.

Election Day was a cakewalk compared to GOP war in Burlington