One of former Gov. Chris Christie’s closest friends, Bill Palatucci, will likely face a challenge to keep his seat as the Republican National Committeeman from New Jersey.
John Sette, who spent seventeen years as the Morris County Republican chairman, is preparing to take on Palatucci in an election set for June.
“I’m 99% sure I’m running,” Sette told the New Jersey Globe.
Palatucci has faced criticism for profiteering off of political campaigns and government, and could be the target of payback after years of mistreating and threatening party leaders – sometimes on Christie’s behalf and sometimes on his own — several party leaders speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Globe.
“Everybody was afraid of him,” said one incumbent GOP county chairman. “Nobody’s afraid of him anymore.”
Republicans had quietly announced in February that they would move the election of national committee members to the party’s winter conference on March 7, largely due to Palatucci’s concern that a challenge was brewing.
Following complaints from several county leaders, the Republican State Committee quickly returned the election to June.
Palatucci’s firm, Gibbons P.C., had landed a $3,000-a-month gig as counsel to Tom Kean, Jr.’s congressional campaign around the same time Palatucci tried to muscle Rosemary Becchi out of the 7th district GOP primary.
Palatucci’s firm, which donates heavily to Democratic candidates, has billed Kean for Congress more than $21,000 through December 2019. Personally, Palatucci has been a light giver to GOP candidates.
Records show that Palatucci is taking considerably more out of Kean’s campaign than he’s putting in. His $1,500 personal contribution falls far short of the $5,600 maximum he can legally donate to Kean for the primary and general elections.
He has contributed $200 to Hirsh Singh’s campaign for U.S. Senate, $500 to Kate Gibbs’ bid for Congress in the 3rd district, and $250 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee’s federal account, according to publicly available campaign finance records.
“I don’t believe as a national committeeman should be working on the payroll of a candidate,” Sette said. “I don’t think a national committeeman should be threatening people.”
Palatucci still faces some lingering resenting from his unsuccessful move to dump Republican National Committeewoman Virginia Haines in 2016 and replace her with Darlene Shotmeyer of Bergen County.
The national committeeman’s waning influence has been on public display this winter.
His endorsed candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, Hirsh Singh, has lost 12 of 13 county organization endorsement votes. Palatucci’s candidate for Congress in the 3rd district, Kate Gibbs, lost the Ocean County GOP convention after prevailing in a screening committee vote.
Sette also has ties to Christie.
The former Morris County freeholder and philanthropist had backed Christie since his local race in the 1990s and was a fundraiser for his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The Christie inner circle has always been sharply divided on Palatucci. Former New Jersey attorney general David Samson, an extraordinarily close Christie friend, couldn’t stand Palatucci and frequently referred to him in meetings as “Giovanni.”
Palatucci did not immediately respond to a 9:54 AM email seeking comment. He did not answer his cell phone.