John Novak, the incumbent Republican mayor of Barnegat, has entered the race for Ocean County Freeholder as an independent, challenging the bosses of his own party for a shot at unseating Jack Kelly or Ginny Haines in November.
Mr. Novak, who is branding himself as a “real people’s candidate” filed his petition this week with the Ocean County Clerk’s Office and will appear on the ballot in November as an independent candidate for the office of county freeholder. No Democrats have been able to land a seat on the all-Republican board since 1989.
The independent candidate said Tuesday that he has the backing of rank-and-file Republicans, who have traditionally supported the incumbents on the freeholder board year after year. Novak’s petition includes the signatures of every member of the all-Republican Barnegat Township Committee, as well as Novak’s former running mate Martin Lisella. Novak also said he has a strong base of support among Democrats and independents, all of which are frustrated with the status quo in Ocean County government and coalescing behind his campaign.
Republican Novak Has Never Gotten A Patronage Job
Mr. Novak was quick to emphasize that he has never had anything handed to him, be it a public job, pay-to-play contract, or otherwise, which these days is becoming the exception rather than the rule among other Ocean County mayors. After being raised by his maternal grandparents in Lakewood, Novak’s education began at Ocean County College, after which he transferred to Stockton University (then State College), before obtaining a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers School of Law-Camden. Throughout his college years, Novak maintained employment in order to finance his schooling, attending law school at night while working at his construction business.
“I have been self employed with my own self-started businesses for the majority of my adult life. I’ve never had anything handed to me and have never been among the political elite or politically favored. I had a paper route and a second-hand bicycle when I was a child; I sold flower and vegetable seeds door to door, did mechanical work on cars – fixing them up and re-selling them; I cannot ever remember being unemployed, even if I was self-employed.”
In 1977, Novak became a Community Service Officer at the Dover Township (now Toms River) Police Department, where he met current Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, who was a patrolman at the time. Novak said it’s a “privilege to count him as a friend.” Novak later continued his law enforcement career with the New Jersey State Police.
Mr. Novak has been practicing law since 1989, when he started his own solo practice based out of Lakewood before later moving it to Toms River. Novak’s law practice has run the gamut from land use to criminal defense, and he is admitted to practice in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington DC and the the Supreme Court of the United States. He also is an FAA licensed pilot, holding a current Instrument Rated Multi-Engine certification.
Aside from work, Mr. Novak’s community activity has seen him hold an executive board position on the Jersey Shore Council of the Boy Scouts of America, in addition to being on the board of the Ocean County YMCA. He is also actively involved in organizations such as the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, NJ Former Troopers Association and the American Legion.
Critical Of Patronage, Graft In Government
Mayor Novak, in his announcement said that he believes that from top to bottom, government is stuffed with officials and appointees that are not grounded in or connected with “real people’s reality” – something that motivated him to get involved in the race for freeholder.
“Many positions of power or prestige have come to those of privilege and many have known little else in their lives other than public positions,” elaborated Novak.
Added the mayor:
“Going from one public sector appointment or position to another for decade after decade impedes one’s ability to be in touch with the real needs of the people they should be serving.”
In contrast to the Barnegat mayor, his Republican opponents Jack Kelly and Ginny Haines have had multiple public positions throughout their careers in elected office, with Haines being a longtime fixture of the Toms River MUA, currently run by former Brick mayor Stephen Acropolis with the help of Toms River GOP boss Juan Bellu and others. Haines also drew criticism years ago for the multiple taxpayer-funded trips she took while employed as lottery commissioner under Governor Whitman.
Freeholder Haines is no stranger to the uppermost echelons of power in Ocean County Politics. Convicted Toms River Schools superintendent Michael Ritacco even sold her the home she occupies on Batchelor Street in Toms River.
Kelly has been described by critics like Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) as the “poster boy” for patronage, with the freeholder director having obtained multiple public jobs that he simply did not have the qualifications for, such as the “airport analyst” job at the Atlantic City International Airport, which called for a college degree and years of aviation experience, and Kelly had neither.
Kelly was most recently nominated to the New Jersey State Parole Board by Governor Christie – but facing an embarrassing confirmation hearing – he withdrew, ending the saga and controversy surrounding it.
Mayor Novak Has Republican Establishment Panicking
While Mr. Novak would not confirm our suspicions, or choose to call anyone out by name in his interview with Ocean County Politics, multiple sources within the Ocean County Republican organization have told us on the condition of anonymity that top party brass, from tax-delinquent Chairman George Gilmore, to OC GOP finance chairman Jerry Dasti, and even Vice Chair Barbara Lanuto have all been thrown into a tizzy over Novak’s candidacy, and the fact that one of their own is standing up to the machine.
Just one day into his campaign, it is abundantly clear that Mayor Novak has already ruffled some feathers among Ocean County’s political elite.
With an independent challenger throwing their hat into the ring, the race for county freeholder will certainly be one to watch in the months leading up to the November general election, with the primary now behind us.
Be sure to catch our full interview with Mayor Novak at the top of this article.