A group of four municipal chairs led by Tracy DiFrancesco Zaikov have asked Somerset County GOP Chairman Tim Howes to resign, saying that have “lost faith, trust, and confidence” in his ability to continue as their leader.
“We feel with great measure and deference that it would be in the best interest of the organization that your resignation be immediate,” a group of current and former party officials said in a letter to Howes sent on Tuesday evening.
In addition to DiFrancesco Zaikov, the Watchung Republican municipal chair, the letter was signed by Ken Scherer of Hillsborough, Anthony Attanasio of Somerville and Marty Herrman of Branchburg. State Committeewoman Janice Fields is also on the letter, along with Somerset GOP Secretary Brittany Wheeler and a group of former elected officials and local chairs, including DiFrancesco Zaikov’s father, former Gov. Donald DiFrancesco.
One signatory to the letter, Franklin Republican Municipal Chair Michele Peterson, told the New Jersey Globe that she did not give permission for her name to be included.
“I’ve never seen the letter,” she said. “You can remove my name from it.”
The group cites a failure to file campaign finance reports with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) since 2021, poor fundraising numbers, financial instability, and losses in the last three countywide elections under Howes’s leadership.
But Howes pushed back on their arguments.
“The ELEC issue is a red herring to disguise the self-interested motives of the signatories, who are attempting a cheap, sad power play,” he said. Several are no longer county residents, and several are motivated more by business interests than they are by an actual desire to elect republicans here in Somerset.”
Howes said he has no plans to resign.
“Despite this distraction, the organization continues to move forward with our campaigns and party building,” said Howes. “I have the support of the vast majority of the county committee and current –not former — leadership and look forward to serving until the end of my term and hopefully beyond.”
The letter from the DiFrancesco Zaikov faction said the next step would be for a removal vote.
“We don’t undertake this step lightly but do it for the sake of our Party and its future in Somerset County,” the letter stated.
But while a special meeting must be held if 15% of county committee members request one, it’s possible that the only step the DiFrancesco Zaikov faction can take is a no-confidence vote. The bylaws are silent on the ability to remove Howes before his term expires in July 2024 and both sides have lawyers offering divergent positions.
The unintended consequences of the fight for control of the Somerset GOP could be a problem for favorite-son Jack Ciattarelli, who plans to run for governor again in 2025. While Ciattarelli is not involved in the bid to remove Howes, many of his supporters are.
Some believe that Ciattarelli had a lock on the Somerset Republican organization line in two years, but the new fight could create a path for a different candidate – perhaps State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), who represents a portion of the county in the legislature. That could especially be the case if ideologically conservative county committee members who support another candidate, like radio personality Bill Spadea, decide to be part of a coalition to deny Ciattarelli the line.