After a couple of years of lying low at the local level, it appears that former state Senator John O. Bennett III wants a piece of the political action in Red Bank.
The Asbury Park Press reports today that Bennett “has filed to run for county GOP committee in the borough, challenging current Red Bank Republican Committee Chairman John Minton.”
Bennett said he moved to Red Bank about a year-and-a-half ago from Little Silver and is seeking the seat to serve as he did in Little Silver for decades.
“I served on the county committee in Little Silver for 30 years. Having moved to Red Bank, I’d like to serve on the county committee (here),” said Bennett, who is still a member of the state Republican Committee.
But, Bennett says, he is not running for borough party chairman and has no designs on running for elective office again and “getting my brains bashed in.” The one exception, he says, is that he might again like to serve on a school board.
Bennett’s move comes at a time of flux for the borough GOP. The seats held by the two Republicans on the six-member council John Curley and Grace Cangemi are open later this year; none of the four Democrats has to defend his or her seat. Moreover, Curley has decided not to seek re-election as he pursues a spot on the Monmouth County Freeholders board.
But Bennett seems already to have county GOP chairman Adam Puharic at his back.
“It appears John Bennett wants to help the local Red Bank Republicans, and if it’s a question of which person running has done more for the party and is likely to help more, Bennett is a good choice,” Puharic said. “I’m not sure what constructive things the other person has done for the party over the last two years.”
That “other person” is Minton, now in his second year as local chairman. He told the press he welcomes the challenge.
Minton’s wife, Coleen Dee Berry, is breaking news editor at the Press.
Bennett, though, says he has “absolutely no agenda’ with regard to the local party other than to help it win.
“I just thought I’d like to be involved in the community,” he tells redbankgreen.
Nor is his candidacy a critique of Minton’s performance, he says. While he would face off against Minton head-to-head because they live in the same district (there are nine in Red Bank, each with one man and one woman sent to the county committee), one doesn’t have to be a committeeperson to serve as chairman, so Minton could lose and keep the post.
“I can only tell you I don’t want to be chairman,” Bennett says, adding that he simply enjoys the grassroots work of local politics.
As for the borough party, he thinks it’s in pretty good shape.
“It appears they’re only 100 votes from being able to win every election,” he says. “So the candidates they run do very well. They knock themselves out campaigning. They just need a little oomph to be able to win.”
Bennett was all but driven out of office some say unfairly hounded by a Press investigation into his law firm’s billing practices. A series of articles packaged as “Profiting from Public Service” … well, here’s how the Press itself described the series last September:
…struck such a chord with the voters in 2003 that the election debate that year shifted from the routine campaign rhetoric to the principles of the candidates. Powerful Republican Senate President John O. Bennett III of Monmouth County, who, the public learned, had carved out high-paying legal jobs from several local towns and put his mother and mother-in-law on his legislative payroll, lost a re-election bid that was a certainty just a few months earlier.
Today’s story says:
Bennett was Marlboro’s township attorney until he stepped down after the Asbury Park Press reported that he charged the township $114,571 at $150 or $160 an hour to rewrite the township’s ordinances while shifting much of the work to an outside lawyer paid $60 an hour by Bennett.
The Press also reported that Bennett double-billed the township for $8,130 in legal work in 2001. Bennett said the double-billing was a mistake and he repaid the money.
A grand jury later subpoenaed Bennett’s billing records. In March 2007, Bennett was informed he was not a target” of a federal grand jury probe into legal bills he submitted to the municipality, according to a letter from a federal prosecutor.
The letter, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney James B. Nobile, came four years after Bennett asked the county prosecutor to investigate his dealings with a township developer, who was later indicted on myriad federal charges.
Bennett lost his 2003 re-election bid in Monmouth County’s 12th District to Ellen Karcher, then a Democratic Marlboro councilwoman, who lost her re-election bid to former Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck last year.
As for all that, Bennett says, he’s moved on.
“The only people who ever had a problem me were at the Press,” he says, “and they’ve got to move on now, too.”