Republicans fight for Handlin’s Freeholder seat

Elected to the Assembly after a bitter primary fight with Joseph Azzolina, Amy Handlin vacated her Monmouth County Freeholder seat on January 24th, triggering a Special Election Convention to fill her seat. The winner of the contest, called for February 25th at the suitably named Battle Ground Country Club in Manalapan, must run for a fourteen-month unexpired term in November 2006 and again in November 2007. Facing off are: Howell Mayor Joe DiBella, Wall Republican Chairman Bob McKenna, Marlboro Mayor Robert Kleinberg, Hazlet Committeewoman Bridget Antonucci, Highlands Councilwoman Anna Little, Spring Lake Councilman Brian Reilly, former Aberdeen Councilman Gus Toomey and Howell resident attorney Thomas DeSeno. After early entrances in the race, Holmdel Mayor Serena DiMaso, who lost a convention battle for Freeholder last year, and Howell Councilman Peter Tobasco decided not the seek Handlin’s seat. This battle is lining-up to be in the South. DiBella, who works for Commerce National Insurance, is likely to have a close fight with McKenna. Before moving to Howell, DiBella lived in Middlesex County, where he was a Sayreville Councilman. He was Monmouth GOP Chairman Fred Niemann’s unofficial pick for the seat, but if history is any guide, his support does not mean its locked-up. Last year, another Niemann pick from Howell, Councilwoman Cindy Schomaker, was upset by Colts Neck Mayor Lillian Burry who now sits on the Freeholder Board. DiBella is considered a better public speaker then Schomaker and has tacit support from some other corners of the county. McKenna, who helped lead the effort to remove William Dowd as GOP Chairman two years ago, has recently had a major falling out with Niemann. His firebrand style of politics and a sizable committee in Wall, however, may be very appealing to conservative county committee members. McKenna also seems to have some support amongst his former Monmouth GOP for Change Coalition, that has now turned its back on Niemann who may be challenged this June. With nearly 100 full seats, and a committee known for block voting, the big question in the upcoming contest is who will Middletown Republican Chairman Peter Carton’s delegation support. With so many candidates in the running, Middletown’s vote can easily swing the outcome. Despite a lot of encouragement to run to fill Handlin’s seat with another woman from Middletown, long-time Middletown Committeewoman Rosemarie Peters is rumored to be seeking the Surrogate’s seat when incumbent Marie Muhler retires. Seven-term Freeholder Ted Narozanick, perhaps the last of the Monmouth GOP’s old guard, is widely expected to retire. (Rob Clifton, elected in 2004, would become the senior member of the Freeholder Board). It is rumored that Niemann is helping Kleinberg seek Narozanick’s seat, but a number of county officials have been encouraging Middletown Mayor Tom Hall to run this spring. AN OPEN LETTER TO CHAIRMAN FRED NIEMANN AND THE MONMOUTH COUNTY COMMITTEE Dear Chairman Niemann, Two years ago you came to me seeking my input on your running for County Chairman. I shared with you the many concerns I had about the then current state of the GOP and its future, a future that was not looking particularly bright and the need for substantive change. When you asked for my help and support I willingly gave it. I co-founded “Monmouth GOP for Change”, along with a group of dedicated Republicans, whose only motive was the betterment of the GOP. Many new practices and procedures were proposed to achieve this goal. I, and others, put our reputations and political necks on the line to get you elected in order to achieve this much needed reformation. When you won I immediately stepped back, didn’t ask for anything, didn’t want anything. Just like the citizen-soldier militias of old I went out, fought the battle, won and then went home. When I attended the Finance Gala in August 2004 at Navesink, the air was so thick with hope and enthusiasm that one could cut it with a knife. It was as if a window had been thrown open and the sunshine let in. My hands helped open that window and I have watched it slowly close shut ever since. I made personal representations to my fellow County Committee members, one of which was that all of our practices would be transparent. I can either ignore what I said to so many back then or I can fulfill that obligation, which after what has just happened, I am compelled to do. 11/17/05… I e-mailed you expressing my concerns regarding the Freeholder vacancy process. I touched on this in my 11/29/05 letter to the County Committee. My concern was that this process was already a done deal and that there were two chosen ones, Joe DiBella and Rose Marie Peters. 11/17/05… you wrote “Bob, don’t listen to all the rumors. I’ll give you the straight up”, and then forwarded my e-mail to Dan Gallic for a response. 11/18/05… Mr. Gallic wrote; “no decision has been made, if Fred is going to back anybody full throttle it will come after serious deliberations with many parties, you are one of those parties. Suffice it to say that if you are not “in the know”, then there is no “know” to be in”. 11/18/05… I replied to Mr. Gallic and copied you. I reiterated my concerns but ended my e-mail, “at this point I will not take any overt or proactive actions until I meet with Fred”. 11/20/05… You called me and during this conversation you told me that you had committed to Joe DiBella “some time ago”. You will recall that I asked how could you do that when didn’t even know who the other candidates would be? I told you that I wanted to meet with you to discuss this matter. 11/22/05… Joe DiBella called me to ask for my support for Freeholder and I told him I wanted HIS support, thus the necessity of my 11/29/05 letter to the committee. 1/11/06… After waiting 2 months I again e-mailed you and Bill; “I intend to play a very active and overt role in the future of the Monmouth GOP and the pending Freeholder vacancy and I think that it would be in our collective best interest to meet ASAP to discuss same. I am available any time morning, noon or night. I look forward to hearing from you.” 1/13/06… Reply e-mail from Mr. Barham; “received your e-mail, will talk to you soon.” Never spoke with him. 1/14/06… At 5:36 P.M. I received your reply to my 1/11 e-mail; “Karen will set up”. 1/16/06… I found out that you had a meeting of countywide officials and constitutional officers, 20+ people, that was held the PRIOR Saturday morning, 1/14/06, in Freehold to interview and meet all of the Freeholder candidates. A MEETING TO WHICH I WAS NOT INVITED. As a direct result of this, I met with you on 1/18/06 at your office. The fact that I was not invited, not informed, not able to participate as a Freeholder candidate in that meeting is clearly, as I told you personally, at best incompetence and ineptitude on someone’s part and at worst I was intentionally not invited. I know you said it was not done intentionally, but frankly I don’t know what to believe anymore. You had no problem finding time to come to me when you needed my help and support; Bill Barham had no problem finding time when he came to my office asking for my help and support the first time he ran for Freeholder. So let us have the sun shine in once again: You and Mr. Barham both want Mr. DiBella for your own reasons, Marie Muhler does not run again, Ms. Peters gets the Surrogate slot and everybody gets what they want…EXCEPT the Monmouth County taxpayers. It’s hard to tell an agenda without a score card, yet there should be only one: That which is best for Monmouth County taxpayers; fiscal prudence, accountability, transparency, nothing else. When we think that way and act that way, the Monmouth GOP wins by default. To my fellow County Commi
ttee members, this is not how I envisioned starting my campaign when I wrote you in November, but reform and change are needed now, it should have started last year, and if we don’t do it, the voters will do it for us in November. I waited and I tried, but given all of the above, I’m not waiting anymore. I look forward to sharing with you much more positive and substantive thoughts in the next few weeks. Working together, we can do it. Very Truly Yours, Bob Robert F. McKenna

Republicans fight for Handlin’s Freeholder seat