Republicans see opportunity in Gloucester, but must get past leadership fight first

Normally, state Republicans probably wouldn’t worry about a leadership spat in Gloucester County, where the local GOP hasn’t exactly been relevant in recent years.
But with a political climate that Republicans think makes two of the county’s Democrat-controlled legislative districts competitive, Republicans hope that opportunity isn’t squandered by a squabble.

Republican State Chairman Tom Wilson has stepped in to try to mediate the split between Gloucester County Republican Chairwoman Loran Oglesby and a group of party activists, while the campaign of gubernatorial frontrunner Chris Christie has yet to commit to screen in Gloucester County Oglesby names the members of her party’s screening committee.

The problem stems from an ongoing fight between Oglesby and a group of detractors led by former freeholder candidate Phyllis Scapellato and Franklin Township Municipal Chairman Bill Fey, who hopes to unseat Oglesby in June. Despite her critics’ best efforts to convince Oglesby to step down before picking the party’s candidates, she has already begun the process.

The party’s convention committee, which Oglesby is a member of, canceled a convention scheduled for this month, where county committee members would have voted to pick candidates. Instead, they delegated the responsibility to a nine member screening panel made up at least partly of Oglesby appointees.

“This whole situation with the chances that the Republican Party has in this election, it’s bigger than she is and bigger than I am,” said Greenwich Township Mayor George Shivery, who screened with the panel on Friday for the party’s endorsement in the 3rd Legislative District.

Shivery, who has called on Oglesby to step down, said that he made the same point to her when he screened.

Shivery said that he was introduced to the screening committee members but could not remember their names and had never met any of them before except Oglesby. So far, he hasn’t heard back from Oglesby about the results.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own horn here, but I’m a three term mayor in a Democrat district and I really don’t see what her problem is,” he said.

Shivery does not plan to drop his candidacy if he is not selected by the screening committee. Also competing for the party nod is Robert Villare, a medical doctor.

Oglesby said another potential candidate contacted her about running in the district, but would not identify him or her.

The screening committee’s pick to run in the fourth district, Andrew Savicky, has caused some grumbling among the anti-Oglesby forces, although they have not put up an alternative candidate yet.

Christie Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said that he has a number of questions left to be answered before Christie will screen in Gloucester.

“I’m still trying to figure out who’s on the screening committee, to be honest,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Christie camp seems to be shoring up its Gloucester County support, possibly with the possibility of the screening committee giving the nod to Lonegan in mind. Today, they put out a press release noting that 31 out of the county’s 37 Republican elected officials have endorsed Christie, along with both state committee members and the majority of municipal chairs.

Oglesby said that the makeup of the screening committee will remain secret because she does not want them harassed by her critics.

“None of the other campaigns have requested who’s on the committee. We interviewed all the other campaigns as of yesterday,” she said.

Oglesby said that she does worry that the civil war will hurt the party, but she doesn’t pin any of the blame on herself.

“I have not created web sites with threatening, bullying, vicious attacks, I have not been seeking out our local press and bashing the leadership of the party as the other side has,” she said. “So they may very well affect the race, but the party leadership will not. And yes, that’s very disappointed.”

Tom Wilson, for his part, said the best he can do is to facilitate a conversation between the two factions.

“All I can ever try to do is to get people who have a common interest, which is electing Republicans, around the same table to have a discussion,” he said. I don’t know if it would be productive, fruitful or if anyone is necessarily interested. I operate under the assumption that if two parties are hell bent on going to war, the best thing to do is run away from the war unless you want to get shot.”

Republicans see opportunity in Gloucester, but must get past leadership fight first