Somerset County GOP Chairman Tim Howes is facing a bid by local Republicans to oust him from office and replace him with the vice chair, Tracy DiFrancesco Zaikov.
A group of Republican insiders are seeking to get fifteen percent of county committee members to require a special meeting with the intention of holding a vote to depose Howes, who became county chairman in 2020.
Party by-laws require a two-thirds vote of the county committee to remove a county chair early. Howes is up for re-election in 2024.
The anti-Howes action has cited the failure of the Somerset County Republicans to file a report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission since the fourth quarter of 2020.
“Since that time, ELEC has sent 12 letters which were reminder letters for filing quarterly reports and the annual designations,” said Stephanie Olivo, the director of compliance, in an email sent to DiFrancesco and obtained by the New Jersey Globe. “Additionally, there are two non-filer notices that were communicated. One sent via mail and the other via email to the designated treasurer.”
Robert Damiano reigned as the Somerset GOP treasurer on Thursday, claiming that he has been unable to obtain the financial records he needs to file quarterly reports.
“I will not file reports with ELEC that are not complete and accurate,” Damiano said in his resignation letter.
DiFrancesco Zaikov supporters allege that the party has experienced fundraising problems and is in debt, suggesting the lack of ELEC reports as an effort to masque the numbers. They also claim the rent on their party headquarters is six months past due.
Howes acknowledged the effort to remove him but declined comment.
The faction trying to take Howes out includes staunch supporters of Jack Ciattarelli, although the former gubernatorial candidate is not personally connected to the effort, his supporters say.
DiFrancesco Zaikov, the daughter of former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, is the Watchung Republican municipal chair.
In his 2022 re-election campaign, Howes defeated Jeffrey Grant with 91% of the vote.
Somerset was a Republican stronghold for decades – Luke Gray ran a formidable political machine out of his Watchung florist shop for decades – and Democrats won only scattered freeholders races before Steve Peter was elected county clerk in 2017. Democrats ousted two incumbent freeholders in 2018, one in 2019 to take control, and two more in 2020; they also have flipped the sheriff and surrogate posts.