In the first sparring match of the 2016 general election campaign for Ocean County Freeholder, independent candidate John Novak, the incumbent GOP mayor of Barnegat skewered the freeholder board’s silence on the issue of a state plan to raise the gas tax by 23 cents at Wednesday’s meeting, claiming that some in Trenton have rumored that 1868 Public Affairs, a firm tied to Ocean County Republican Chair George Gilmore, was hired by a North Jersey union that works on road construction to lobby in support of the tax hike.
Novak Vs. GOP Incumbents
At Wednesday afternoon’s meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Mayor Novak was on the offensive, lobbing criticism at the failure of the freeholders to join in opposition to the state’s gas tax hike proposal.
Barnegat Township Committee Unanimously Opposed Gas Tax
Novak said at Tuesday night’s Barnegat Township Committee meeting, his town’s all-Republican Township Committee unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the Christie-backed proposal that would raise the state gas tax by nearly 23 cents per gallon. Last week, the plan was derailed, and Governor Chris Christie pulled the plug on over 900 active transportation projects funded by the Transportation Trust Fund in an executive order as a result of both houses of the state legislature failing to pass the bill.
The Republican mayor is running as an independent challenger, running against two members of his own party along with Democratic nominees Ed Wolff and Michael Cooke to seek a seat on the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The last shakeup the freeholder board saw was in 1989, with the election of Democrats Paul Brush and Mark Troncone (Troncone is now a superior court judge).
Kelly is a veteran of the board, but the numerous blatant examples of Kelly using his position for his own personal benefit – such as obtaining a job at the Atlantic City International Airport that he was not qualified for, and most recently a job on the state parole board – have left even many rank-and-file Republican base voters with a bad taste in their mouths for Kelly. Haines is running in her first election after she was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of James Lacey, who was recently replaced by a former Democratic Ocean Gate Councilman, Christopher Theodos, at the Brick MUA.
Both Kelly and Haines have long been favored by Gilmore, if their long resumes of political appointments are any indication.
Why Won’t Freeholders Oppose Gas Tax?
“This is an oppressive tax that will hit Ocean County especially hard,” said Novak, decrying the tax increase. He claimed that everybody from commuting workers to parents driving kids to sporting events would be hit hard by the potential tax hike – and that because of the magnitude of a gas tax increase’s impact – the silence of the freeholders was deafening. “It’s sad that it’s not on your agenda,” he said to the freeholders during the public meeting.
Novak expressed disappointment that the board did not adopt a resolution as his governing body did to lobby against the gas tax hike, citing the potential impact a tax hike of that size would have on both local residents and tourists.
Buzz In Trenton: Gilmore PR Firm Hired By North Jersey Union To Sell Gas Tax Hike
Mr. Novak said that while he was in Trenton Wednesday morning, rumors circulated by those close to the situation appeared to indicate the potential involvement of Ocean County GOP boss George Gilmore in the plot to raise the gas tax. He said there is currently no independent verification, but said “Folks have heard that a North Jersey union that does road construction work has hired county chairman George Gilmore’s 1868 Public Affairs lobbying group to support this terrible tax.”
According to their website, 1868 Public Affairs, which was founded in 2005 “…is a full service government and public affairs consultancy with offices in Trenton, New Jersey. The partners and staff of 1868 Public Affairs possess diverse backgrounds and skills reflective of the complex government and business environments in which they work.”
The firm, which has Gilmore officially listed as “of counsel” with the organization, has clients ranging from giant corporations like Walmart, AT&T, Cooper Health System (South Jersey Democrat George Norcross’ Hospital), Gabel Associates (makes a lot of money off of municipal energy aggregation schemes), HP, Verizon and even the government of Monmouth County, New Jersey.
“I hope that the board’s silence on this important issue which adversely affects so many Ocean County residents is not in any way related to the rumors I heard in Trenton,” he said. “I understand politics – party loyalty – I understand all that. But as elected officials, we all took an oath. We represent people, and we owe a duty to those we serve,” Novak added.
Freeholders Still Silent On Gas Tax
The freeholders – who sat in silence as Novak spoke – would not respond to the substance of his claims, nor have they taken a position on the gas tax since since the inception of the ongoing public debate over just what to do to fix the woes of the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund.
At the conclusion of Novak’s remarks, Freeholder Kelly made the motion to close public comment, with nothing else being said. Nobody else spoke during public comment after Novak.
We have a full recording of Mayor Novak’s remarks above for your listening pleasure.