Monmouth GOP Chair’s Race, Part 1: The way the game is played

Ultimately the job of a county chair is to win elections.

Unfortunately, much of the current campaign for Monmouth GOP chair has been focused on the spoils of victory—which lawyer would be a hungrier pig if he/she got elected.

That issue is a red herring.

John Bennett’s pledge that he, his daughter and his firm will forsake doing legal work for the county should he be elected chair would be impressive if he also pledged to forsake municipal work and pledged not to trade legal work at the county and municipal levels with chairs from other counties.  That will never happen.

Bennett has demonstrated over his thirty year career that he is a master of working the system for the benefit of himself and his family.  There can be no  little doubt that before he pledged that he and his daughter would not do legal work for Monmouth County should he be elected GOP County Chair, that he already had made a deal to replace and expand those billable hours and retainers in other counties.  To put it bluntly, if Bennett becomes Chair, his income will increase from Ocean County and Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore’s income will increase in Monmouth County. 

“That’s the way the game is played,” one Bennett supporter recently told MMM in defense of the obvious.

John Bennett’s career is a case study in “the way the game is played.”   From the high five figure state pension, plus lifetime health benefits, he is collecting from tacking together part time jobs, a practice that is no longer legal, to the jobs he has secured for himself and his family members on the state, county and municipal levels, to making the government work that his opponent in the Chair’s race, Christine Hanlon and her partners, do an issue in this race, Bennett is the maestro.

Talk to me about the potential conflicts of interest of your opponent after you’ve pledged to give up all government work for yourself and your family.  Short of that, please stop insulting our intelligence.

Posted: June 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: John Bennett, Monmouth County Republican Committee, Monmouth GOP | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments »

20 Comments on “Monmouth GOP Chair’s Race, Part 1: The way the game is played”

  1. Memory Lane said at 7:13 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Your point is well taken. Take a stroll down Memory Lane…..

    Public clients profit Bennett, law firms
    9:32 AM, Aug 20, 2007 |

    Written by

    From his first job as a Marlboro police dispatcher to attorney for more than a dozen local governments, state Senate co-President John O. Bennett III has profited from his political ties.

    During a 29-year law career, the Republican legislator from Little Silver has cultivated a stable of public clients who, in the last decade alone, earned him and the firms in which he was a partner more than $7.1 million.

    He also stands to collect roughly $100,000 a year from his public pension if he remains in the state system through September 2008, when he turns 60, as a result of holding several public jobs at once.

    Ironically, it could be Bennett’s private practice that leads to the downfall of his political career.

    In March, federal and state grand juries began investigating Bennett for his billing practices as Marlboro’s municipal attorney, a position from which Bennett has stepped aside during the probe.

    “You spend a career trying to be so particularly careful not to have those kind of allegations” leveled against yourself, Bennett said in a recent interview at his Neptune law office. “It really makes you feel like, ‘Why did I do that? Why did I put myself in that position?’ . . . That’s why I’m running. I’m me. I’m not some big boss.”

    The criminal probes came after an Asbury Park Press investigation found that Bennett had double billed Marlboro for legal fees totaling $8,130. The senator has publicly apologized for what he called an honest mistake, but news of the probe and other questions about his relationship with the township’s government have him fighting for his 25-year political career.

    Bennett spent more than $410,000 to win the Republican primary for the 12th District Senate seat against a challenger who spent less than $20,000.

    Meantime, the perception that Bennett fattened his wallet at the public trough caused his own county party chairman to publicly ask Bennett to drop his bid for re-election in November, fearing the controversy could bring down Bennett’s two Assembly running mates, Michael J. Arnone and Clare M. Farragher.

    At the same time, it has emboldened Democrats statewide, who have targeted Bennett’s seat in a bid to take control of the evenly divided Senate.

    William F. Dowd, Monmouth County Republican Party chairman, declined to comment for this story. But even after Bennett won the June primary, Dowd continued to ask the senator to drop out of the race.

    Bennett is facing Democrat Ellen Karcher in the November election.

    Hard work, political clout

    There are many reasons for Bennett’s successful law career, not the least of which is a legal acumen honed during countless evening planning board, utility authority and township meetings.

    “It’s been a career that’s been built with a lot of hard work,” said Bennett, 55. “At some points in the career it was four nights a week, every single week. . . . I still work seven days a week.”

    But those who paid his salary say Bennett also was appointed because of his political clout. As a state legislator, he steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds toward their municipalities.

    Bennett also benefited from the backing of political allies, his ability to get officials re-elected through fund-raising and campaign efforts, and his charitable donations to the pet projects of those who appointed him.

    Bennett also has recommended hundreds of friends and colleagues to various state posts, including Marlboro Mayor Matthew V. Scannapieco, who appointed the senator as the township’s attorney. Last year, that job paid Bennett a salary of $116,754, one of the highest in the state for a local employee.

    Former Keansburg Mayor Patrick Antonacci said the borough kept him on as its attorney in part because of the state money he secured for the cash-strapped municipality. Bennett has worked as an attorney for the borough, the Keansburg Board of Education and the municipal utilities authority.

    Antonacci also said Bennett gained favor with council members because of donations he has made to several causes in Keansburg, including one that helps special-education students, a charity with which Antonacci is involved.

    “He’s been very generous to the town and has been instrumental in getting hundreds of thousands in grant money to refurbish the town hall,” Antonacci said. “He’s gone beyond the call of duty. If we have problems, we go and seek him out.”

    Bennett defended the practice of procuring state funds for towns that pay him a salary and donating money to nonprofit and charitable causes in those municipalities.

    “When you work in a town, you get time to understand its problems,” Bennett said. “I’ve always believed that if you make money in the town, you should turn around and give money back into the town. I believe that, especially in a poor community.”

    He also said the no-bid legal work for which he was hired over the years was the result of his legal expertise and hard work, not because he was an assemblyman, state senator or Senate leader.

    “It had nothing to do with the Legislature,” Bennett said. “I’ve gone through and worked hard and moved up. And it was a natural progression. It’s true in almost every town. I’ve made a career, and in most cases long-term careers, in the particular towns.”

    Joining the club

    In New Jersey, attaining elected office and holding multiple public jobs is a time-honored tradition.

    It begins with an up-and-comer calling on a political patron — typically a county or municipal party boss, but possibly an elected official or a private-sector power broker — who holds sway over local nominations and appointments.

    Once the ambitious public servant is in the patron’s good graces, with a campaign contribution or volunteer work, a call is made to politicos who oversee hiring.

    “All you have to do is get in,” former Howell Committeeman Dan Massa said. “Once in, all a young politician has to do is show up to political functions where he meets people. Sometimes he donates to the cause and says remember me when a position comes open. If you do a decent job and you’ve got some power . . . you’re going to get appointed from one job to another.”

    Professional positions, such as municipal attorney, are highly regarded posts.

    Unlike most contracts, they are not subject to New Jersey’s open-bidding laws. Instead, decisions on staffing are left up to the party that controls the local government.

    Most of these positions are filled at the suggestion of the county or local party chairman, who contacts elected officials with a roster of prospective hires shortly after the officials take office. The suggestions are usually accompanied by an unspoken understanding that the job requests are tied to party backing and funding in the next election.

    “The suggestion of who you put in the office coming from the party chairman is the rule rather than the exception,” said Joseph D. Youssouf, a longtime friend of Bennett’s who practices as a municipal attorney from his Englishtown office. “If you’re not well-connected politically, it’s very hard to get the job.”

    Bennett’s mentors

    As a young politico, Bennett had the backing of former GOP Assemblymen Chester Apy and Mort Salkind, who was also a two-time mayor in the senator’s hometown of Marlboro, Salkind said.

    A friend of the Bennett family, Salkind gave Bennett his first public jobs as a Marlboro police dispatcher and clerk of the township Planning Board.

    It was a natural progression for Salkind to help the son of longtime campaign supporters, particularly one who baby-sat his children and started a political group: Republicans for Salkind.

    Their friendship, Salkind said, involved Salkind making dozens of calls on Bennett’s behalf, to support him or to help him obtain various positions. Salkind, who has since moved to North Jersey, continued supporting Bennett this year after the federal grand jury investigations became public.

    “I certainly was (his political backer),” Salkind said. “I’ve always put in a good word for John . . . with all party and political leaders. I’ve done it for decades, and I’ve believed he’s accomplished many things. For everybody who makes it, those who help along the way contribute that, and it’s perfectly fine to do that.”

    Bennett met Apy, also a Republican from Little Silver, in 1972 while working as an aide in Apy’s Assembly office. The two worked together again at the Red Bank firm of Abramoff, Apy and O’Hern after Bennett graduated in 1974 from Seton Hall Law School and completed a clerkship with a Monmouth County judge.

    “I did matrimonial law because I had clerked for the matrimonial judge . . . so it was kind of natural,” Bennett said. “I also started almost simultaneously doing municipal law. Chet (Apy) and Justice (Dan) O’Hern had represented several municipalities, so I started working on them.”

    Apy declined to comment on his relationship with Bennett, citing his position as a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation judge in Freehold.

    Bennett’s first municipal job came in 1977 as attorney for the Englishtown Board of Adjustment, and a year later, he won his first elective office as a member of the Little Silver Board of Education.

    But his political career started in earnest in 1979 with his election to an Assembly seat over longtime Democrat Walter J. Kozloski, who spent the last month of the campaign in critical condition at Monmouth Medical Center with a kidney ailment. For Bennett, the victory was the culmination of a lifetime of political training, from various class offices in grade and high school to posts as chairman of the Monmouth Young Republicans and as a member of the New Jersey Young Republicans board.

    Bennett’s Assembly victory also jump-started his law practice.

    “John had in his blood politics the likes of which very few people had,” said Youssouf, a boyhood friend of Bennett’s who attended law school with him. “He was always more of a politician than a lawyer. It wasn’t by training and dedication (that he became a municipal attorney); it was by happenstance.”

    Over the next four legislative terms, Bennett amassed more than a half-dozen municipal attorney’s positions. By 1986, Bennett served as attorney for Englishtown, Hazlet and Howell, the Marlboro Township Board of Adjustment, Colts Neck and Roosevelt planning boards, and the Keansburg Board of Education.

    Those appointments were based on merit, or in the case of Democratic-controlled Keansburg, a bit of serendipity, according to Bennett.

    All the Democratic lawyers must have turned the borough down, and the council started calling lawyers alphabetically, Bennett said. “I didn’t know a solitary soul there.”

    But when Marion Masnick and her fellow Republicans took control of the Howell Township Committee in 1984, they were paid a visit by the county and township Republican organizations. One of their recommendations was Bennett for township attorney, Masnick said.

    “He knew not only the municipal law but politically, too, what would be good and what wouldn’t be good,” said Masnick, who now works as a secretary for Republican Freeholder Ted Narozanick. “I never doubted what John said.”

    Prominence as attorney

    As Bennett gained power in Trenton — he was appointed in 1989 to fill an unexpired term in the Senate. As he rose to become the most powerful elected Republican in the state, so did his stature rise as a municipal attorney.

    His success, in part, was attributed to the knowledge he accrued over his career.

    “That (experience as a municipal attorney) clearly is something that Sen. Bennett had to sell,” said Gary Fox, who with Jerry Zaro in 1989 recruited the newly appointed senator to their Eatontown firm of Ansell, Fox, Zaro, & McGovern. “I’m also certain that municipalities who daily have to deal with state government were impressed by the fact that (Bennett) was somebody who knew his way around state government.”

    When Asbury Park tried to jump-start redevelopment of its waterfront, the City Council in 1997 turned to Bennett, who was then Senate majority leader, with hopes of capturing state funds for a city on the financial brink.

    “It was certainly looked at that . . . his position in the state certainly wouldn’t hurt the city, especially with his knowledge and his longevity,” Asbury Park Councilman John J. Hamilton said. “It certainly wasn’t looked at from a negative perspective, and at that time it was a Republican administration.”

    Municipal officials also know it doesn’t hurt to appoint a state lawmaker who admits to recommending hundreds to various state and judicial posts, including most of the Superior Court judges in the Monmouth County Courthouse.

    Take Marlboro Mayor Scannapieco, who nominated Bennett in 1992 for the township attorney position. Four years later, Scannapieco was appointed by then-Gov. Christie Whitman — at Bennett’s request — to the Victims of Crime Compensation Board, a job that now pays $104,118 a year.

    Bennett and Scannapieco have denied there was a quid pro quo. Bennett defended his recommendation of Scannapieco because of the Marlboro mayor’s years of experience as an accountant for Public Service Electric and Gas Co.

    Acting governor

    In one of his proudest political moments, Bennett served last year as acting governor for 3 1/2 days due to a constitutional quirk that left the state with no governor for a week between the terms of acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco and Gov. McGreevey.

    He moved into the governor’s mansion, printed stationery and letterhead at his expense, signed legislation and threw an engagement party at Drumthwacket for his daughter, again at his expense.

    He also pardoned a former business partner and Keansburg Board of Education member, Hugh G. Gallagher, who voted to hire him as school board attorney. His response was “I was never asked” about the business relationship at the time of the pardon.

    In July 2002, Bennett joined the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson and opened a branch office in Neptune across the hall from his old firm.

    In addition to the handful of municipalities Bennett represents, his team of lawyers, including Bennett’s daughter Meghan, work for at least a dozen municipalities and various area authorities, although business has declined since word of the federal and state probes surfaced this spring, Bennett said.

    He stepped down as Marlboro’s attorney pending the outcome of the probes.

    He also has been criticized by those inside and outside the GOP for subcontracting legal work on a Marlboro recodification project that has already cost taxpayers more than $100,000.

    The Stafford lawyer who did the work was paid $60 an hour while Bennett charged the township $150 or $160 an hour for the still unfinished project. The committee last month hired a private company to redo the work for $24,910.

    With his duties as Senate co-president demanding more and more of his time, Bennett has also changed his role to become more of a rainmaker — someone whose job is to drum up business for the firm — even though he still attends a fair share of night meetings and manages his law practice.

    “Every piece of paper that goes out of this office I read,” he said. “I pretty much have an idea of every file that’s going on in the office. I still try to do hands-on management.”

    He does this all while running a campaign in the most heated race of his career, one in which he will have to dissuade voters from labeling him as a political insider who profits from the system.

    “It’s difficult because there’s a perception to categorize everybody as the same,” he said. “And while there are exceptions to every rule, you get painted into a picture.”

  2. Memory Lane said at 7:15 am on June 8th, 2012:

    3 1/2 days of a profitable Governorship.

    Written by
    and ERIK SCHWARTZ Asbury Park Press

    The final hours of state Sen. John O. Bennett III’s 3 1/2-day term as acting governor were good for Dover Township and good for Bennett’s private law practice.

    On Jan. 11, 2002, Bennett signed into law an unprecedented bill that would provide $15 million in state money to buy up to 750 unspoiled acres of the Ciba-Geigy Superfund site in Dover — the location of a now-closed chemical factory that has been associated with a higher incidence of leukemia in young girls.

    That same day, Bennett, a Monmouth County Republican, signed a contract with Dover to act as its bond counsel. The deal would be worth thousands of dollars to his law firm.

  3. Name (required) said at 7:32 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Seems there is never room for the moral -honest supporters.

  4. Freespeaker1976 said at 9:10 am on June 8th, 2012:

    From Christine’s Latest Email:

    “I have never and will never give campaign contributions to Democrats who are actively working against our Governor and Republican legislators as my opponent has done in 2009, 2010 and 2011.”

    If this is true, and I have no reason NOT to believe it, then this should seal the deal and close the door on Bennett. Never trusted him, and now I know why

  5. Memory Lane said at 9:31 am on June 8th, 2012:

    It’s true. I believe there was an article about it on this site a few weeks ago.

  6. Joe D. said at 9:42 am on June 8th, 2012:

    It is a shame that this always comes down to personal attacks. Its not about ideas its about who can smear the best without evaluating the totality of one’s experience and credentials. John is a class act and I doubt will reply in kind with this sort of below the belt attack. Both candidates have solid credentials so why go here? Really disappointing but not unexpected.

  7. Observer said at 9:51 am on June 8th, 2012:

    It is right there in NJ ELEC about the contributions to Dem Legislative PACs. Why is that a personal attack? It seems self interest trumped party. Nothing wrong about the contribution per se, but what message does that send to the rank and file?

  8. @ Joe D said at 9:59 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Personal Attacks? That’s rich.

    Giving money to Democrats is not a personal attack. It’s a matter of Bennett’s record.

    Totality of one’s experiences? Christine has been there in the trenches with MODERN GOTV operations, the kind that brought a HUGE plurality to Christie. Where has John been.

    Raising Money? Christine has done quite well with the Gala, Thank You Very Much

    Raising money

  9. Concerned Citizen said at 10:49 am on June 8th, 2012:

    It’s called “vetting”.

    Vetting is a necessary part of our system and allows us to make an informed choice. Proclaiming that vetting is a “personal attack”, is an attempt to circumvent this system, and thus deny us the right to make an informed choice for the best candidate.

    It’s a sleazy tactic.

  10. TR said at 10:57 am on June 8th, 2012:

    See its a sleazy tactic when it’s used against your guy otherwise it’s fair game

  11. Justified Right said at 10:59 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Did Obama write this article? What’s next Art – an attack on Bain Capital?

    You make earning money sound like a crime, when all that John Bennett has ever done is legal.

    Doesn’t Christine and her firm make government money? Shouldn’t your piece go after her with equal vigor?

    Is it too late to throw my hat in the ring? As I used to tell The Shadow, I was the only guy in county politics who seeks no government contracts at all.

  12. ArtGallagher said at 11:07 am on June 8th, 2012:


    Either your reading comprehension is off today or you haven’t been following this race.

    Bennett has made the work of Christine’s firm an issue in this race. I’m calling shenanigans on the issue with this post.

    You are correct, everything Bennett did was legal, when he did it. Now, the “tacking” he did to get his five figure pension and health benefits is no longer legal.

    You are also correct that I don’t like people using public “service” to get rich. Bain Capital did not do that.

    It is not too late for you to get in the race, Tommy. Anyone Republican can show up on Tuesday and put their name into nomination.

  13. TR said at 11:11 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Tommy, I think you miss the point of the article. Art is not attacking Bennett for making money. He is saying that it is a non-issue and it is hypocrical for Bennett to obliquely attack Hanlon for her County work. I would agree with Arts point of view.
    Either candidate is going to accrue power and influence if they get this position. They being lawyers will convert that into business one way or another. It is the way life works in a place called reality.

  14. Justified Right said at 11:15 am on June 8th, 2012:

    Art and TR – I’m saying add some balance to the article.

    There is no condemnation of Christine for being political and making government money, but there is plenty of that for John.

    By the way – tacking shouldn’t be illegal today.

    Making it illegal came on the coattails of the “pay to play” non-issue the AP Press and others pushed.

    There was no pay to play problem in NJ. All those laws they passed were a waste of time.

  15. Concerned Citizen said at 11:21 am on June 8th, 2012:

    TR said, “See its a sleazy tactic when it’s used against your guy otherwise it’s fair game”

    I respectfully disagree. I did not say that. Our current President was not vetted, and look what we got.

    I am still making my own choice, and would like to be as informed as possible, with regard to both offerings. We’re adults. We can sort it out.

  16. GoChristine! said at 11:44 am on June 8th, 2012:

    First of all, for you guys who are complaining that Art attacked Bennett and not Hanlon, the headline of this very blog post was titled “Part I,” which leads me to believe there will be a Part II. Will that be about Hanlon? Dunno, but in the meantime, don’t get yer panties in a bunch because obviously, Art’s not finished yet.

    Secondly, pointing out that a man running for Republican Chair has a very recent history of donating to Democrats is not a personal attack. It’s called vetting, and the Chair’s job is to raise funds for the Republican Party, not for the Democrats.

    Bennett should be embarrassed and thoroughly rejected by the Monmouth voters for his donations. It’s really as simple as that.

  17. RepublicanRed said at 12:17 pm on June 8th, 2012:

    Any Republican Candidate that donates to a Democrat will never get my vote.

    Where is the loyalty to the Republican Party?

  18. Concerned Citizen said at 12:53 pm on June 8th, 2012:

    To be clear; crying “personal attack” every time your guy’s background is examined, is a sleazy tactic.

    It’s an attempt to silence the vetter and get your guy in, before anyone realizes there are big problems there.  It also sets your guy up as some kind of faux “victim”, in the hopes of eliciting undeserved sympathy toward him, and animosity toward the vetter.  It would seem that the goal is to discredit the vetter and his info, all in order to distract the public from the obvious fact that THERE ARE BIG PROBLEMS in this candidate’s background.

    It is an attempt to circumvent the public’s right to choose based on the facts.  It’s terribly, distubingly disingenuous, it’s damaging to the party, …and it’s sleazy.

  19. and, there are bigger problems, today, said at 9:36 pm on June 8th, 2012:

    in some opinions,with this woman’s candidacy, and its future implications,too: here’s a scenario for a next year: you’re a new, young, Ernesto-type.. or, you’re an experienced worker who finally wants to run for something: if you think for ONE moment there will be a fair chance for you if you don’t pass the new kabal’s sniff-test, and fit into their peckng order and schemes, you got another think coming: they’ve already sent out their “anonymous” henchmen, in both word and mail, which is beginning to smack of desperation and is turning some voters off.. several others have complained about veiled threats, unless they “get on board with us,” and fears for their jobs/futures,etc..how profesioal, welcoming, and unifying-not!.. kinda like another Adam “purge the old,” or those we don’t like, who we can’t order around, or who don’t fit-in-regime, but on steroids,just with higher degrees.. we say good luck with all that- seeing bad blood and bad scenes to come, if this railroad job of lies and intimidation succeeds, next week.. very sad..thanks a heap, way to leave, pals and way to go “forward”….

  20. @and, there are bigger problems said at 8:56 pm on June 9th, 2012:

    Bolviating Today With Conspiracy Theories, Eh?