Fall of a Boss: Republican Leaders scramble to Make sense of Ocean in the Coming Aftermath of Gilmore

Ocean County Republicans try to make sense of what happened and what to do next after the conviction of GOP Chairman George Gilmore on three counts of federal tax evasion.

Even Genghis Khan eventually went belly up, and so too did Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, convicted last week of failing to pay payroll taxes and submitting a false loan application.

His particular fall resounded in Ocean County, where the boss served as chairman since 1996. One of his allies groped for understanding, finding, amid the diminishing clutter of big picture associative resources, the words “Shakespeare” and “the Bible” but unable to make connections beyond the basic outlines of those musty tools that for so long seemed to guide a part of western thought and behavior.

He might have just as easily used the words “tragedy” or “fate.”

GOP insiders on their way to a meeting today expected Gilmore to resign his chairmanship, formally ending his over two-decade plus reign as Ocean county Republican chair. The names Frank Holman, former mayor of Jackson, and Frank Sadgehi, an engineer from Toms River, circulated as possible successors.

But a stunned sense of dislocation pervaded.

Gilmore had suckled many seaside Republicans into political existence.

For years the linchpin of GOP Party politics as leader of the most Republican county, he was chair of the Republican chairs even when he didn’t have that title. If a Republican running for statewide office secured the backing of Gilmore’s organization, he had an enormous leg up on a Republican Primary victory statewide. His allies say he built his power on a superior sense of organization – and people skills. He was a dealmaker, but not a bully. He was a behind-the-scenes player who eschewed flamboyant theatrics.

For at least half of his run as chair he was the most consistent dominant boss personality in New Jersey outside of South Jersey Democratic Party power player George Norcross III.

He used federal connections to draw national-level luminaries to Ocean, and during stretches of his political lifespan appeared to be the most powerful Republican in New Jersey – the man to talk to if a presidential candidate wanted a New Jersey fundraising beachhead. That changed when former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie became governor and assumed full control of the party apparatus in his own state, advising Gilmore, for example, “to keep his powder dry on prez politics” as he mulled his own 2012 White House bid. Gilmore had wanted to bring Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in for an Ocean event, but the governor’s allies let the boss know that was a no go.

While his control over county government in the overwhelmingly Republican county never appeared in doubt and nourished the base of his political power, Gilmore in the post Christie era seemed to obviously lose a step. A group of so-called young gun chairs, among them Bill Layton of neighboring rival Burlington County, Somerset County’s Al Gaburo, and Essex County’s Al Barlas, bucked the Ocean general on a 2017 gubernatorial candidate. Gilmore picked LG Kim Guadagno, while the others threw their weight behind Jack Ciattarelli. The party rift was ugly, and Gilmore’s one-time Julius Caesar-like bearing in the midst of his fellow chairs seemed like a scene played out under a statue of Pompey (not Ptolemy; thank you, careful reader).

It didn’t help Guadagno, who at the time seemed conscious of paying tribute to Gilmore while also avoiding getting photographed with him as insiders anticipated his federal jam-up.

Gilmore’s last spurt of out-of-the-box, beyond Ocean successes, including his 2014 championing of a come-backing Jose “Joey” Torres in Paterson, and an unknown bow-tied mayoral candidate named Don Guardian in Atlantic City, proved last hurrahs. And they came undone, brutally in the case of the jailed Torres in 2017, and in arguably predictably two-fisted fashion when Guardian failed to win reelection that same year.

Gilmore ate the indictment earlier this year, his old acumen in question on the heels of his hand in the deal that made the GOP Primary-doomed Hirsh Singh the nominee in CD2, and the general election fumbling away of a congressman in CD3. The boss had been in the backrooms of the Heldrich Hotel in 2011, his influence undeniable in the withdrawal of Cherry Hill from CD3 and the addition of Brick, to bulk the district up for the Republicans. But that heads-up suit and tie play-calling could not stem the streets, as U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) failed to withstand the Burlington backlash against President Donald J. Trump that put Democratic challenger Andy Kim in office and proved a portent of more angst to come for Gilmore.

Trump’s White House had arrived on the shores of Ocean like the wreck of the Aysrshire.

It was interesting, but did not fundamentally change the outline of the GOP beach.

If they could immediately locate the applicable Bible verse in these secularized times, the fall of the boss put the county organization in some disarray.

It reminded those mortals who had toiled in the party that finally the ocean lapped at the shoreline without mercy.

And yet they could not turn away from the thought of Gilmore’s political life extended somehow, reminiscent perhaps of Joe Ferriero’s second act with Mike Kasparian.

“I don’t know that all the candidates are set,” one source told InsiderNJ, referring to the unfolding contest for the chairmanship. “I’m sure George…

“I’m sure George will want a say.”

And another:

“It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a third candidate that’s more of a Gilmore person, who would likely be able to win with Brick and Lakewood. That’s what I’d put my money on.”

And another:

“I wouldn’t say it’s over. I’m sure George will appeal.”

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