Republican district leaders in two counties go to the polls today in contested races for county chairman.
In Ocean County, George Gilmore is seeking a return to the post he held from 1996 to 2019 before a conviction on federal tax-related charges triggered his resignation. He faces Sheriff Michael Mastronardy in the race to succeed Frank Holman, who is not seeking re-election.
Bergen County GOP Chairman Jack Zisa faces a challenge from Raymond Herr, a former Fairview councilman.
Holman is backing Mastronardy, along with all five county commissioners and the Ocean Republican legislative delegation.
Gilmore received a pardon from President Donald Trump before he served any jail time and has since become a thorn in the side of the Ocean County Republican establishment, backing challengers to local Republican incumbents and fundraising for a rival Republican organization. But he wielded tremendous power during his 23 years as county chairman, and he still has wide support, including some from Republican officials who endorsed Mastronardy.
Mastronardy allies won 88 seats in Toms River, where Gilmore’s off-the-line slate netted him 33 seats. Gilmore has won support in two other big towns, Brick and Manchester.
Ocean County is the most Republican county in the state, regularly giving statewide Republican candidates huge margins and sending all-Republican delegations to the state legislature. In last year’s gubernatorial election, Republican Jack Ciattarelli carried Ocean County by a whopping 34 points, winning 145,756 votes to Gov. Phil Murphy’s 68,615.
Tonight’s race is also viewed as a precursor to the 2025 gubernatorial primary. Mastronardy has support from allies of Ciattarelli, while Gilmore backed Phil Rizzo for the nomination last year.
Zisa, a former Hackensack mayor who first won the job without opposition in 2018, is the favorite to win re-election. He easily beat back a challenge from Oradell GOP Municipal Chairman Michael Gardner in 2021 by a vote of 350 to 164, a 68%-32% margin.
Republicans have not won a countywide race in Bergen since 2013, but President Joe Biden’s faltering job approvals have the GOP bullish on their chances to unseat two-term County Executive James Tedesco.
Zisa’s candidate, former Bergen County Freeholder Todd Caliguire, won the GOP primary with 59% against an off-the-line challenger backed by Herr. But his candidate for Congress against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) lost the primary after Frank Pallotta held Nick De Gregorio to a 919-vote win in the Bergen County portion of the district.