Just when New Jersey Republicans thought things things could not can any worse, the head of the only big county GOP machine left in the state just got indicted.
George Gilmore has been the boss in Ocean County since 1996, when he took over for Joseph Buckalew after a fifteen-year apprenticeship. Under his leadership, Republicans have never lost a race for countywide office or a race for the legislature and GOP candidates for President, Governor and U.S Senate have carried Ocean in every race.
The problem for Ocean Republicans is that Gilmore did not follow Buckalew’s model and no succession plan exists if he departs.
That won’t necessarily happen anytime soon.
Gilmore has made it clear he plans to fight the Justice Department’s charges against him. He has no intention of leaving the chairmanship, or giving up his job counting votes as chairman of the Ocean County Board of Elections.
As Gilmore prepares for the fight of his life, he has no heir apparent to help manage Ocean County politics. That includes a aging freeholder board accustomed to following the county chairman’s instructions.
Buckalew had groomed another up-and-coming Republican besides Gilmore: Jerry Dasti. When Gilmore became county chairman, Dasti was installed as finance chairman.
Gilmore and Dasti have always had an intense rivalry. Both built law firms that competed for business. Gilmore was not particularly talented at sharing.
Dasti built a law firm with State Sen. Christopher Connors, one of the few Ocean County politicians not controlled by Gilmore. The firm includes Assemblyman Greg McGuckin.
Gilmore’s legal woes — speculation of his problems have been around for a few years — is unlikely to endanger Republican control of county government. It could provide Dasti and Connors with an opportunity to make a play for increased influence.