TOMS RIVER – As allegations of patronage and a sexual harassment cover-up roil Ocean County government, Wyatt Earp, the county’s Democratic chairman, believes that in GOP-dominated Ocean, opportunity is now knocking.
“This is the perfect storm of elections. Tim Ryan is a long-standing community leader and a philanthropist,” Earp told PolitickerNJ, referring to the Democratic candidate trying to block Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari, a Republican, from his twelfth three-year term in November. “Normally, in general in Ocean County, with the [Republican advantage in party] registrations, it’s an uphill battle [for Democrats]. But even without this, Tim Ryan is going to be a significant challenger in this freeholder race.”
Vicari, the county’s top elected official and the leader of the five-member, all-Republican freeholder board, has been accused by a former county department head of abuse of power after Vicari allegedly helped to secure a $150,000-per-year county contract for Brick GOP leader Joseph Veni despite the legal bidding process, according to a report in Sunday’s Asbury Park Press.
Vicari then allegedly protected Veni after he was accused of sexually harassing county employees. Vicari and Veni are defendants in a sexual harassment and discrimination suit filed by a county employee who claims Vicari allowed Veni to “sexually assault” her and caused a hostile work environment. Veni’s company’s contract was terminated earlier this year.
In a recent interview with News12, Vicari said that the allegations made by William Santos, the former director of buildings and grounds for Ocean County, are “not true” and “has no merit.” But Earp believes Vicari’s pain could be Ryan’s gain.
“There’s an opportunity for Tim Ryan to get in and show what a Democrat really can do,” Earp said. “Once we elect one Democrat to the freeholder board, does that show how well other Democrats can do? Is that going to help us get other seats? Absolutely.”
Santos, a lifelong Republican, went further in comments to the press about his feelings about Vicari’s political future, stating that he “will absolutely do anything he can to see that Joe Vicari is not re-elected.”
Earp saw Santos’ comment as perhaps another tacit opportunity for the Democrats’ Ryan.
“I think Mr. Santos has made it clear that he’s going to make sure that Joe Vicari loses,” Earp said. “I don’t how he makes sure that Joe Vicari loses without supporting Mr. Ryan.”