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Former Acting Mayor John O. Bennett III. (Photo: More Monmouth Musings.)

On second try, former acting governor gets Dover job

John O. Bennett III named interim town administrator

By David Wildstein, September 10 2020 8:14 pm

Former Acting Gov. John O. Bennett III was named interim Dover town administrator after a raucous virtual meeting tonight.

Bennett will be paid $127,500 for a nine-month contract, which could be terminated early if the town finds a permanent replacement before June 2021.

The Board of Aldermen voted 7-2 to hire Bennett at a special meeting called after members of the public pushed back on September 8.

“John Bennett is the most qualified individual for the job,” said Mayor Carolyn Blackman.  “We were very lucky to find Senator Bennett.  He is a team player with a good heart.”

Blackman said Bennett was hired at the suggestion of Dover’s risk management consultant, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi.

Dover also voted to hire John Gross, the West Orange CFO, as the town’s interim chief financial officer.  He’ll work part-time at a rate of $99-per-hour.

The mayor also also said that the town is using an outside firm to assist with their search.

The firm has not formalized their agreement with the municipality.

The firm’s website lists Gross as one of their managing directors.

Financial disclosures he filed with the state Department of Community Affairs do not indicate any affiliation with the company.  The New Jersey Globe has learned that Gross has no formal role and has not done any work for them.

Bennett will also serve as Dover’s purchasing and compliance officer.

The 72-year-old Bennett served as Co-Senate President from 2002 to 2004 after the 2001 election produced a Senate with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

He served as acting governor for 84 hours in 2002 between the time Gov. Donald DiFrancesco left office and the inauguration of Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Bennett has been unemployed since January, when he was let go from his post as the business administrator in Woodbridge.   He is still the municipal attorney in Keansburg.

Since losing his State Senate seat in 2003, Bennett has also served as administrator in Oceanport and Lavallette.

Once one of New Jersey’s most powerful politicians, Bennett had served a decade in the State Assembly before winning a 1989 special election for State Senate.  He served as Senate Majority Leader from 1994 to 2002.

The 84-hour Bennett administration was full of hoopla and fanfare.

He moved into Drumthwacket, printed letterhead, and had pens made that said “John O. Bennett III, Acting Governor” to use when he signed his name to official documents.  He delivered the State of the State address to the Legislature, hosted an engagement party for his daughter at the governor’s mansion, and issued daily schedules for himself and his wife, the Acting First Lady.

He even pardoned an old friend and campaign contributor.

The definitive historical account of the Bennett governorship was written by the New York Times’ David Kocieniewski, who said Bennett carried himself “with the measured exuberance of a high school yearbook advisor” and said that John and Peggy Bennett “toured New Jersey like a conquering Caesar visiting the provinces.”

After his 84-hour term ended, Bennett returned to the Senate.

He got himself in a little trouble – political, ultimately not legal — over billing practices at his law firm.

Throughout the 2003 campaign, Bennett faced a seemingly daily barrage of media attention – mostly from the local Asbury Park Press newspaper – attacking Bennett’s ethics and allegations that he over-billed municipalities that he represented as an attorney.

Held to 59% in the Republican primary, Bennett then lost the general election to Democrat Ellen Karcher by 4,574 votes.  His 42.5% of the vote reflected a drop of 16 percentage points from his 2001 total.

Bennett became the first sitting Senate President to lose his own seat in at least 100 years.

He later won a seat on the Republican State Committee and had a short tenure as the Monmouth County Republican Chairman.

Bennett was hired as the Oceanport administrator in 2014, where he also doubled as public works director while still serving as a municipal attorney for Colts Neck and Keansburg.

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