By Art Gallagher
The municipal chairs of western Monmouth County are hosting a candidates forum for those seeking the GOP nomination for Monmouth County Freeholder tomorrow at 9:30am at the county library on Symmes Road in Manalapan. The chairs from the region are scheduled to meet following the forum to discuss endorsing a candidate.
Manalapan Mayor Andrew Lucas will have the home field advantage. Wall Committeeman George Newberry and Spring Lake Councilman Gary Rich are rallying their supporters to attend the event.
With the screening committee meeting to choose a candidate for the party line a month away, it might be early for a block on chairmen to announce an endorsement. The field currently consists of Lucas, Newberry and Rich. None of the three are considered a lock for the nomination in what is shaping up to be a very competitive race.
Rich, who is making his third bid for a Freeholder nomination, now has the backing of former Red Bank Chairman Jim Giannell. Giannell’s relationships with chairs in the Two Rivers region and the Bayshore are a significant boost to Rich this time around.
In the fight for the 2006 nomination, Giannell threw his support to Lucas during a wild and contentious nominating convention. Lucas won the nomination but he and Giannell later had a failing out when Lucas did not support Giannell against Adam Puharic in the race for county chairman.
To a certain extent, Rich vs Lucas is a battle for influence between Giannell and Manalapan Chairman Steve McEnry and his loosely aligned western Monmouth chairman’s group.
Newberry has the strong support of the Wall Township Republicans. County Clerk Claire French’s support of Newberry is significant. The Rich camp and the Lucas camp both consider Newberry to be County Chairman Joe Oxley’s choice, despite Oxley’s efforts to remain neutral through the process. Oxley is the Wall Township Borough Attorney.
All three candidates are counting votes and think they have enough support to win a race that like last year’s contest is looking to be closely divided. Last year Tom Arnone beat Tom Wilkens of Middletown by 4 votes. Rich came in third, but only 12 votes separated him and Arnone.
However, the field of three candidates may expand or change.
Lucas has been telling people, including MoreMonmouthMusings, that he will not ask the screening committee for the nomination unless he is confident that he has the votes to win. He told MMM that at this point he thinks he has the votes and has no intention of dropping out.
But some have heard Lucas’s words to mean that he might drop out. This has led others to consider entering the race. Howell Mayor Bob Walsh is the most notable potential candidate.
Walsh, a Republican who was elected as an Independent in Howell, declined to enter the Freeholder nominating race earlier due to an family matter concerning his son’s health. That situation is now managable and Walsh has his family’s support to run if he so chooses. Walsh told MMM that he won’t run against Lucas with whom he is very friendly, but that he will run should Lucas drop out.