Sean Di Somma, above at lower right, on election night last November. Below, Jack Minton, center, with candidate Joe Mizzi and then-Councilwoman Grace Cangemi in 2010. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
This time, though, Sean Di Somma will also have the title of local party chairman as he goes about finding a replacement.
Fellow candidate Brian Hanlon has dropped out of this year’s race against Democratic incumbents Juanita Lewis and Ed Zipprich, he told redbankgreen Wednesday, because his employer, Oppenheimer, objected.
And party chair Jack Minton is stepping down, in all likelihood to be succeeded by Di Somma when the the party faithful meet for their annual reorganization meeting this weekend.
The chairmanship would put Di Somma, who failed in his bid for a council seat last year, in charge of an operation in obvious need of bolt-tightening. Though the GOP won its first toehold on power in seven years with the election of Cindy Burnham to the otherwise all-Democratic council last November, its recent efforts have been marked by hasty candidate recruitment of political neophytes, mid-race bail-outs and go-their-own-way candidates.
Only 11 of the 18 county committee seats – one woman and one man from each voting district – are filled.
How the party got there, or why it gives a shambolic impression, is not something Minton would discuss with redbankgreen Thursday. “I’m not in a ruminating mood,” he said.
But he acknowledged it was time for a change.
“I’ve done this for quite a long while,” Minton said, “and I feel strongly that people should not stay in these offices forever.”
He also had high praise for Di Somma, who he said was “a natural fit for the job. He’s very astute politically, he’s motivated, and he’s a very loyal Republican.”
Di Somma, a Morford Place resident who found himself batting allegations about a traffic ticket late in last year’s race, said he lost because the GOP infrastructure wasn’t a match for the Democrats’.
“Last year, we would have had two seats if we’d had a stronger organization,” he said. “They had people everywhere, and we had no one.”
His first order of business as chairman, he said, would be to fill empty committee seats in time for the GOP county convention next week.
Then he’s going to turn his attention to replacing Hanlon on the ballot. Hanlon, who like Di Somma won an uncontested primary vote earlier this week, had actually already dropped out by notifying state Senator Jennifer Beck, who had recruited him to run, he said.
A financial advisor at Oppenheimer & Company, Hanlon said his employer “did not give me the approval for the outside activity. They didn’t feel that Oppenheimer was prepared for any regulatory fines” that might result.
Minton was outraged by the decision.
“I don’t know what if any business they have with Red Bank,” he said of Oppenheimer, “but when a qualified person like that is prevented by his employer from standing for office, it diminishes the system. It really does.”
The GOP hasn’t put up a mayoral candidate to oppose Democrat Pasquale Menna as he seeks a third four-year term, and Di Somma said he doesn’t think it’s critical that it do so this year.
“We’re not in this for blood,” he said. “Pat’s always been a gentleman, willing to reach across the party divide.”
Besides, he added, “the mayor doesn’t have a lot of power in this town unless it’s a 3-3 split” in a council vote.