Antony Ghee says he didn’t think much of it when Peter DeNeufville, a fellow candidate for the Republican congressional nomination in District 11, invited him to meet for coffee.
After all, rivals see a lot of each other on the campaign trail and relations among them are often collegial.
Not this time.
Ghee says that when he met DeNeufville Thursday at the Versailles Diner off of Route 46 in Fairfield, his opponent delivered a blunt message.
He wanted Ghee to get out of the race and endorse him (DeNeufville).
In exchange, Ghee said DeNeufville pledged to help get Ghee a job with the Morris County parks system.
Ghee, who spoke to reporters on a mid-afternoon conference call, said DeNeufville also made an offer of employment to Pat Allocca, another candidate in the race who was also invited for coffee. Candidate Martin Hewitt was not present.
Ghee said he considered the offer a possible violation of law and drafted a letter to county, state and federal authorities asking them to investigate.
The accusation by Ghee certainly spices up what already had been an interesting primary battle among five candidates for a seat being vacated by the retiring Rodney Frelinghuysen.
The only candidate among the five to now hold elected office is Assemblyman Jay Webber of Morris Plains. That suggests he’s the favorite, but there are other factors involved.
Ghee of Totowa has Republican organizational support in Essex and Passaic counties – about 40 percent of the district – and DeNeufville of Mendham has been spending heavily on TV advertising. He also has suggested that Webber may not win in the fall, at times calling him “whacky.”
Republicans have represented the district for about 40 years.
According to Ghee, DeNeufville said at the diner that his polling suggested that he (DeNeufville) was the only candidate who could beat Webber. So, he wanted Ghee and Allocca to drop out.
Ghee’s letter claims that DeNeufville said he would serve only two or three terms in the House and that Ghee could be in line to replace him. To move those ambitions along, Ghee said DeNeufville advised him to move to Morris County.
Keep in mind that it’s not unusual for candidates to ask other candidates to drop out – even if in this case, “dropping out” would be more theoretical for Ghee than real. It is too late to remove names from the ballot.
The crux of the matter is Ghee’s contention that DeNeufville pledged to reward him with a job.
Here is how Ghee’s letter puts it:
“More specifically, Mr. DeNeufville suggested that if I dropped out of the race he could help me get appointed to the position of Chairman of the Morris County Parks and Recreation Commission, a ‘very prestigious post’ as he put it.”
Things get a bit fuzzy here.
The body being referenced actually is the Morris County Park Commission,. The county has an extensive park system and the commission is charged with overseeing it. And yes, being chairman of the commission is a prestigious post, no question about it.
However, it is not a paying position. All commission members are volunteers. Ghee’s letter refers to a promise of “employment,” which may not be accurate when dealing with a non-paying post.
Another point is that members of Congress have nothing to do – at least officially – with the county park commission. However, it could be worth noting that DeNeufville and his family foundation have a history of supporting land conservation efforts, suggesting he may have contacts in that area.
Ghee also said that DeNeufville offered to help Allocca, who recently was a concert promoter, find a job if he dropped out. Allocca was not immediately available for comment.
DeNeufville responded in a statement.
“It is sad that Antony Ghee is trying to resuscitate his failing and broke campaign by distorting and mischaracterizing a meeting we had to discuss the campaign,” said the Republican candidate. “Being an attorney, he knows better and in fact has initiated a number of similar conversations.”
The Webber campaign also issued a statement in response to Ghee’s charge.
“The allegation that Peter DeNeufville tried to bribe Antony Ghee is a disturbing one.,” said Webber Campaign Manager Phil Valenziano. “This is corruption plain and simple, and it is wrong. This should be investigated thoroughly by the appropriate authorities, and Peter owes the voters an immediate explanation.”
For his part, Allocco said, “With just a few days left in this hotly contested Primary, I would never have chosen to publicize the meeting that took place at the Versailles Diner and indeed, declined an invitation to participate in a press conference. I strongly believe that there was no intended malice on the part of Peter and that he was truly exploring a path to his own victory. With that stated, I consider both men to be friends and I have no further comment on this unfortunate matter.”
Here is Ghee’s full letter to the authorities: