The Ocean County Republican Chairman and his predecessor, who resigned after a criminal conviction, will face off on Wednesday evening in a high-stakes vote to recognize a new Republican Club in Toms River.
The result will decide which faction of the Toms River Republicans – one loyal to GOP County Chairman Frank B. Holman III and the other controlled by George Gilmore, the former county chairman – will be recognized as the official club.
Republicans for Toms River is seeking to certification as the official club, replacing the Toms River Regular Republican Club, the recognized club for at least the last 35 years.
The president of that club, Geri Ambrosio, is an ally of Gilmore.
Gilmore had been convicted of federal tax-related charges in 2019, but President Donald Trump pardoned him on his final day in office. There is considerable speculation that Gilmore wants his county chairmanship back when Holman is up for re-election next year.
Holman has been critical of Gilmore’s meddling since he 2018, when he defeated the former chairman’s handpicked successor, Frank Sadeghi.
“If he wasn’t causing harm, it would be a different story,” Holman said. “He’s been divisive.”
The race for a rare open seat on the Ocean County Board of Commissioners could hinge on the vote to recognize the new club. The club president casts 13 votes at the convention.
Holman is backing Little Egg Harbor Committeewoman Bobbi Jo Crea for the open seat, while Gilmore wants Berkeley Township Councilman John Bacchione. Crea won the recommendation of the screening committee.
“We need more women in our elected positions,” Holman said.
Since 1850, only two women have won countywide office in Ocean County: Hazel Gluck, who was elected freeholder in 1976, and Haines, who was appointed to fill a vacancy as freeholder – now county commissioner – in 2016.
Ocean County GOP bylaws give Republican clubs, not county committee, the authority to award an organization line. The Toms River club wields the largest block of votes at a county convention.
The new group was formed after they dropped plans to take over the existing club by running Haines, the Republican National Committeewoman from New Jersey, as their candidate for president.
Haines dropped out of that race and is now a member of the new club.
The Toms River infighting began in earnest in 2019 when Mayor Thomas Kelaher retired.
Gilmore sought to deliver the GOP mayoral nomination to former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. Maurice (Mo) Hill, a four-term councilman and retired U.S. Navy Admiral, ran for mayor.
Coronato won a closed-door screening committee endorsement against Hill by a 10-9 vote. Then he won the organization line by just 8 votes, 43-35.
Hill ran off the line in the Republican primary and defeated Coronato by 536 votes, 41%-34%. Hill’s slate swept all three council seats.
Holman said that Hill and Republican Municipal Chairman Peter Van Dyke support the recognition of the new club. Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River) and Haines are also supporting the move.
“They need to get on from this bickering,” Holman said. “Mo won”
Ambrosio said that Hill and his three running mates refused to join the Republican Club.
“The submission of the Republicans for Toms River is fraught with falsehoods, fiction, farce, and an apparent attempt at fraud,” Ambrosio said in a letter to the county party organization. “The skullduggery and scandalous actions of the Republicans for Toms River and its minions has been under way for many months.”
She alleges that Holman had requested her resignation during a meeting attended by McGuckin.
“During this meeting, my position on the tax board was discussed, my husband’s township job was discussed, and I was asked if there was anything I wanted (a position) in exchange for my resignation,” Ambrosio said. “I said all I wanted was for the club to remain intact and for the mayor and his team to join the club. These threats to our employment and positions where I was appointed by the Governor, bordered on or were unlawful acts which were done to others.”
According to Ambrosio, her club has over 350 members.
Among Ambrosio’s challenges: six members of the club do not live in Toms River, and one is dead.