Inside Ocean County Government

Opinion, Stafford

Stafford Conservatives Sell Out: Editorial

STAFFORD – The first thing the newly elected Stafford Conservatives – who surprised the political establishment by winning in a primary upset – did once in office was hire indicted Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore’s firm, after taking campaign contributions from a PAC tied to the chairman. Have they gone back on their principles?

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

That conventional wisdom is holding true in Stafford, with the election of the Stafford Conservatives this past November. When the Stafford Conservatives entered the fray last year, they promised to be different from the disgraced administration of Mayor John Spodofora, who abused his power to sic the police department on one of his toughest critics amid allegations of “stolen valor.”

Instead, their recent actions show that they’ll join Ocean County’s long list of political disappointments, having been co-opted by the same toxic pay-to-play machine politics that their predecessors and many before them have succumbed to.

That’s a disappointment because, by all accounts, the early performance of the Stafford Conservatives was promising.

When the Stafford Regular Republican Club President, Rich Carlson, made moves to revoke the membership of their supporters, despite having been chosen by the majority of the township’s GOP primary voters, we believed the Conservatives to be fighting an uphill battle against the same old politics that has plagued Ocean County.

Carlson attempted to purge the supporters of the Conservatives from the rolls of the Republican Club, leading to the formation of the new club in 2018.

Getting rid of Jim Moran as the township’s business administrator was a welcome change made by the conservatives, one that was expected since their primary victory. But hiring back George Gilmore’s law firm cancelled out any modicum of good they did by showing Moran the door.

Ex-Stafford Administrator Jim Moran

Moran had to go. The former business administrator, like former Mayor Spodofora, was radioactive thanks to the baggage he came with, having received a six-figure “golden parachute” on his way out of the Southern Regional School District amid some serious allegations, including “an apparent prejudice against people of color.”

That deal – which was inked prior to him being hired as the Stafford BA – came after he allegedly made graphic comments about his sexual activity to school employees, according to court papers regarding the case.

The Conservatives made their case by running a campaign distancing themselves from the troubles of the past all-GOP administration. “We don’t have any baggage,” Stafford Councilman George S. Williams told Ocean County Politics at the time.

Meet The New Boss, Just Like The Old Boss?

Up until the end of this summer, they seemed to be on the right track. But the Stafford Conservatives blew it when they hitched their wagon to embattled Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore,

If the first thing they do once they get in office is hire Gilmore’s firm, then any hope of the Stafford Conservatives effectuating meaningful change during the remainder of their tenure has gone out the window.

Guadagno, after winning, seen with George Gilmore. Photo: John Raue via Twitter

The Conservatives are single-handedly responsible for bringing Gilmore back into the fray in Stafford. They now have to own that, and answer to their supporters and residents as to why they thought it was such a good idea to appoint his firm once more.

Stafford For Sale?

In a display of political sausage-making, Gilmore’s firm was appointed as the new township attorney at the January reorganization meeting, dumping the Forked River firm led by Ocean County GOP Finance Chairman (and occasional OCP commenter) Jerry Dasti.

From a resolution appointing the firm

A review of campaign finance reports on file with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) even shows that Gilmore’s Ocean County Republican Chairman’s PAC gave generously to the Conservatives, prior to them hiring his firm.

GOPAC, the national Republican PAC with ties to Gilmore that was investigated by the FBI for campaign contributions made to Ocean County Republican elected officials, also gave generously to the Stafford Conservatives:

What happened to the ethical declarations made by Republican Councilman George Williams in his summer interview?

“We also had a lot of engineers and attorneys and stuff like that,” he told us in an interview after a fundraiser. “We also understand that they’re looking for business,” he said.

Stafford Township Council Candidate George Williams, seen here with Congressman Tom MacArthur, both Republicans.

A Faustian Bargain

Gilmore’s modus operandi is simple: Republican candidates seeking the Ocean County GOP political machine’s support make a Faustian bargain with the chairman – who could be facing down a lengthy jail sentence if convicted of his federal charges – in exchange for benefits that trickle down to their own personal political careers.

Coming soon to Stafford town hall?

Gilmore becomes the backroom political boss of the town in exchange for turning on a spigot of patronage appointments, county jobs & campaign contributions. The same old story that has been played out in Stafford, Lacey, Berkeley, Jackson and plenty of other municipalities over the years – and taxpayers are left to foot the bill.

It’s a system that has served people like Ocean County freeholders Jack Kelly and Ginny Haines quite well, as they shuffle from one public position after another despite a lack of college degree or formal qualifications. They get undeserved public positions while taxpayers keep getting stuck with the bill – both for the public jobs and the inevitable civil lawsuit settlements.

Freeholders Kelly and Haines

As the late comedian George Carlin observed: “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

The behavior of Stafford’s new Republican leadership is especially odious because they have held themselves out as being principled conservatives, claiming the moral high ground that team Spodofora has lost over the years. On their club website, Stafford’s new Conservative Republican Club, of which all of the current councilmen are members, holds themselves out as being principled conservatives.

“We are principled Republicans who believe our Founding Fathers got it right. We are pro 2A, pro-limited government, pro-veteran, proud Americans,” they say.

It took mental gymnastics to understand the logic of the Stafford Conservative Republican Club’s Sergeant-at-arms, Cris Molla (Mello), who attempted to rationalize the choice of Gilmore’s firm in a Facebook group used to promote their candidacy.

Jean Cipriani

“The Mayor and Council did not appoint George Gilmore to be our attorney of record,” Molla wrote. “They appointed a very competent and well thought of female attorney Jean Cipriani from his law firm, who is not under indictment.”

It is disingenuous for Stafford Conservative Republican Club officials like Mr. Molla to try and lead residents to believe that Cipriani operates in a vacuum and outside of Gilmore’s control. Far from it.

Cipriani, while not facing the same legal troubles of her firm’s lead partner is still an instrumentality of Gilmore and his machine. They are one and the same, and to suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of Ocean County’s political mechanics.

The Stafford Conservatives have lain down with dogs, as the saying goes. For the good of the township, let’s hope they don’t wake up with fleas.

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