Friday, July 04, 2008

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Joe Oxley has been the County Chairman for nearly a month and has been getting good reviews pretty much across the board. Some readers may wonder how we, the Monmouth County Republican Party, got to where we are today.

Here's how.

Our great party has a long history in power in the county. We dominated on both the county and local levels, where even Asbury Park and Long Branch were once G. O. P. strongholds. Democrats were not able to make inroads until the 1960's, when they elected James Howard to Congress, Paul Kiernan as Sheriff and Eugene Bedell as Freeholder. Kiernan's son, Paul Kiernan, Jr., would nearly oust longtime G. O. P. leader J. Russell Woolley as County Clerk. While Bedell was ousted after one term, Howard and Kiernan would hold office for many years; Howard until his death in 1988. Otherwise, the Republican grip would remain solid until the 1970's.

Woolley's successor as county chairman, County Clerk Benjamin H. Danskin, would be faced with an unprecedented existential challenge to the Republican Party on all levels: The Watergate scandal. While no Monmouth Republicans were involved in Watergate, multitudes were swept from office during the 1973, 1974 and 1975 elections, including Danskin himself as County Clerk. Three freeholders (Axel B. "Junie" Carlson, Jr., Albert "Buddy" Allen and veteran Director Joseph C. Irwin.) would lose their seats, throwing control of the Board to the Democrats for the first time since the 1930's.

Danskin and his successor, former Upper Freehold Township Mayor Frederick C. Kniesler, had their work cut out for them through much of the 70's and 80's. While control of the Board of Freeholders would swing back and forth during this period, the Democrats were never able to keep the majority for more than two years and the G. O. P remained a dominant force, growing stronger into the 80's.

During the Danskin and Kniesler chairmanships, the organization was united and factionalism was nearly nonexistant due to their leadership styles. Their persuasive qualities led to respect; this is the sign of a true leader.

Kniesler did not seek reelection in 1986 and was succeeded by former Assemblyman William F. Dowd, who was chairman for a very long time. Dowd's first freeholder election was lost to Democrats John "Flippy" D'Amico and John "Well Done" Villapiano, but subsequently he presided over 17 years of county level wins.

In the beginning, Dowd's leadership style followed the Danskin/Kniesler model, but he soon proved to be different. Dowd's leadership style was more flambuoyant for one, and he was not afraid to choose up sides in local disputes. Once you do that, resentment festers and factions develop. Still, factions remained confined to the local level; the county level remained largely unified.

This would begin to unravel.

In 1995 Dowd announced that he would not support Sheriff William M. Lanzaro for a sixth term due to potential problems with the sheriff's personal finances. This would result in the first major contested primary for county office in many years. Lanzaro was defeated by Joseph W. Oxley, who would go on to serve four terms as sheriff himself and is our current county chairman.


In 2003, reacting to negative reporting about Sen. John O. Bennett in the Asbury Park Press, Dowd announced that the Monmouth County G. O. P. would not support Bennett for another term. Still, Dowd did not replace Bennett on the county organization line or back his primary opponent. This resulted in Bennett's loss to Ellen Kärcher, and the loss of Assemblymembers Clare Farragher and Michael Arnone to Democrats Robert Morgan and Michael Panter.

Also in 2003 Dowd took sides in the raging dispute between the Middletown Township Committee and the developers of the proposed Town Center, drawing the ire of yet another state legislator, Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, who's family was looking to develop the property. This move would also raise a local Middletown issue to a county issue. Dowd would later go on to threaten to withdraw organization support for Azzolina if he chose to run for reelection in 2005.

And the band played on...

All this time Dowd was neglecting the operations of the Monmouth County Republican Committee. Fundraising was lackluster, there was little or no party building, and political decisions relating to the County were delegated to Freeholder Director Harry Larrison, Jr., and we all know how that worked out.

In 2004, Dowd decided that Freeholder Edward Stominski had to go, and in a small gathering in a gracious drawing room overlooking the wide and lazy Navesink, Stominski was denied organization backing in favor of Robert Clifton, resulting in yet another countywide primary, in which Clifton would defeat Stominski and go on to be elected freeholder.

Many loyal Republicans saw this as the final straw. A movement was begun to unseat Dowd. This was unprecedented in a county with a tradition of uncontested chairman's elections. Several current and former officeholders were approached, including Dr. Mike Arnone of Red Bank. All the A-List people demurred. Finally, the little - known Fred Niemann of Wall agreed to run and went on to soundly defeat Dowd. Fred would eventually turn on many of those who supported him and ally himself with the same factions (And by then there were factions!) Dowd was allied with, even following through on Dowd's proposal to deny party backing to Joe Azzolina.
Niemann also oversaw the creation of the controversial PACs, which generated bad publicity to our party while failing to address the anemic fundraising of the past several years. The PACs were among the issues believed to convince Niemann that he should not run for chairman again.
Niemann's successor as chairman was Adam Puharic, like Niemann another unknown. Adam came in on a positive note, promising unity. He presented himself as a master fundraiser and public relations person. Many had hope for the party under Puharic's leadership.
Things were about to get really weird.
The mercurial chairman instituted a screening process designed to unseat Freeholder Anna Little. He publicly criticized the Board of Chosen Freeholders, once on the county pay - to- play policy and again on the transfer of an employee. His bouncing from job to job became the butt of jokes, as did his proposal that Rudy Giuliani move to New Jersey to run for U. S. Senate. Fundraising did not improve, to the point that the rent for Republican Headquarters was several months past due. The self - proclaimed PR whiz became a walking PR nightmare. In the end it was found that Adam Puharic was an unsuccessful Township Committee candidate who went on to serve as a Municipal Chairman who's only local race ended in defeat for his candidates. He opted not to run this year, resulting in the unanimous election of Joe Oxley as chairman.
Oxley is a known quantity; the former sheriff has previously served as Middletown mayor and committeeman as well as a municipal prosecutor. Once again an A - List person occupies the chair.

1 comment:

JIM_PURCELL said...

Well said, Mr. President. It was quite a story. Sounds like a lot happened.