George Gilmore went full Joe Merlino on Samantha DeAlmeida, a 29-year-old State Assembly candidate.
DeAlmeida appeared before the Ocean County GOP screening committee on Saturday seeking support in her bid to succeed Assemblyman David Wolfe (R-Brick), who is retiring after 28 years in the legislature.
Instead, Gilmore told her she should run for councilwoman in Brick.
That didn’t sit well with DeAlmeida, a former Assembly Republican staffer who now advocates for cancer survivors. She didn’t view the process as fair and viewed Gilmore as dismissive.
“The decision was made previous to this,” DeAlmeida told the New Jersey Globe. “It’s an old boys club. I’m an outsider and people really liked that I’m not caught up in the machine.”
One of DeAlmeida’s arguments is that the Republican Party is quickly losing strength in New Jersey because Democrats are doing a better job at attracting women and millennials.
“We can critique and discredit the Democratic base all we want, but we have to acknowledge their success in activating both the youth and female populations in New Jersey and across the country,” DeAlmeida said in her remarks to the screening committee on Saturday. “By supporting me as your candidate we will have the opportunity to energize a younger generation of voters, especially young women, who may have a hard time relating to the GOP they see today. In order to ensure survival and longevity, the GOP needs to become more dynamic and engage a younger voter base.”
Erica Jedynak, the New Jersey state director for Americans for Prosperity and an advocate for women in the New Jersey Republican Party, was critical of a system that denies young women candidates an opportunity to run.
“Waiting one’s turn in a false premise to protect incumbency. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to keep/flip seats,” Jedynak said in a tweet on Sunday. “When the talent pool is restricted to those who came from political machines and towns that have raised taxes, we will get more of same from the State Legislature. If the Republican Party wants to re-engage and build a more inclusive party, candidates like Sam should be embraced.”
DeAlmeida hasn’t decided her next move.
Her options are to run against the recommended candidate, Brick Republican Club president John Catalano, at the county convention or in the June primary.
She may also decide to try again another time.
But running for council is something she has clearly ruled out.
She said her experience “lends itself to Trenton.”
“Life after this will be just fine for me. I will never be the ‘nice girl’ who sits quietly in the corner and waits my turn, when I feel there shouldn’t be a line. I won’t apologize for my fire,” DeAlmeida said in a Facebook post. “I will continue to be a strong advocate for those that need it the most.”
What’s a full Merlino?
In 1982, when Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) was 29, he was a freshman congressman seeking re-election to a second term against Joseph Merlino (D-Trenton), an cigar-chomping 60-year-old former Senate President.
After a debate, Smith approached Merlino to tell him that some of the things he said in the debate simply were not true. Merlino was with a reporter.
“Beat it, kid,” Merlino told him. “I’m talking to the press. When I get to Washington, look me up. I may give you a job as a page.”
Smith is now in his 39th year in the House, where he represents part of the 10th legislative district in Ocean County.