Ocean County Freeholder Gerry Little will not seek re-election to a sixth term next year, creating a rare vacancy on what will be the Board of Commissioners and a likely fight between two feuding factions of the county GOP organization.
Berkeley Township Councilman John Bacchione entered the race to fill the open seat.
“Like all Ocean County residents, we are saddened that Freeholder Little will not be seeking reelection. Freeholder Little has had a distinguished public service career that has spanned over 50 years,” Bacchione said. “I would like to publicly thank Freeholder Little for his service to our Country and his service to the citizens of Ocean County.”
Another incumbent, Gary Quinn, is expected to seek re-election.
Little Egg Harbor Mayor Barbara Jo Crea has already signaled her interest in the seat.
Other candidates are expected to consider running for a post that rarely opens.
Assuming party rules remain the same as the last 40 years, candidates will need to appear before the screening committee, and then the county GOP convention.
In 2020, the two groups voted differently on the race for Congress. The convention determines the valuable organization line.
The race will likely trigger a battle between two factions of the Ocean County Republican Party: one led by County Chairman Frank Holman III and the other by his predecessor, George Gilmore.
Bacchione is allied with Gilmore.
“He’s not been supportive of the party concept,” Holman told the New Jersey Globe. “He’s going to screen, and we’ll see.”
Gilmore is expected to back former GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt for governor, while Holman appears leaning toward Jack Ciattarelli.
Holman ally Freeholder Virginia Haines, a state committeewoman and the Republican National Committeewoman from New Jersey, supported Bob Hugin in the race for state chairman.
The winner, Michael Lavery, is Gilmore’s nephew. State Committeeman Thomas Kelaher, a former Toms River Mayor, backed Lavery.
Bacchione served as a councilman since 2011 and spent one term on the school board.
He entered the race with the support of Keith Buscio, the council president.
“Councilman Bacchione, as Chairman of our Council’s Finance Committee, has been instrumental in keeping our property taxes the second lowest overall in Ocean County, one of the lowest overall in New Jersey and played an important part of our two bond upgrades,” Buscio said. “Councilman Bacchione has our complete support.”
Little, a former Long Beach Commissioner and Surf City Councilman, won the seat in 2003 after Freeholder James Mancini died in office.
“I look forward to the screening process. I strongly feel my personal, elective and community experience make me uniquely qualified to serve as a Commissioner. Since Freeholder Little’s retirement announcement, I have made dozens of calls to various party officers and elected officials throughout Ocean County,” said Bacchione. “I really appreciate the positive comments and encouragement I have received, along with the many commitments of support. I would like to thank my hometown of Berkeley Township where I have received unanimous support as this process moves forward.”