How a Trump Pardon Resurrected One of New Jersey’s Most Powerful Republicans

But a key connection to Donald Trump saw Gilmore pardoned on the president’s last day in the White House. The following year, Gilmore had once again become a political force in New Jersey, so much so that the state’s Democratic governor and a Democratic senator from a neighboring county – Vin Gopal, one of the Republicans’ top targets in the legislative elections of the state – have broken bread. with him.

“I found who were extremely loyal and loyal friends, and found those who were just political friends who were easy to ditch you in times of need,” said Gilmore, who has never pleaded. guilty and still maintains his innocence, in a telephone interview. .

The dinner meeting – which was first reported by POLITICO and also included Murphy’s chief of staff – came months after Gilmore, who still owes the IRS millions and faces liens on his home, narrowly won back the Republican presidency of Ocean County after a hot-contested race that ended in a trial.

Now Gilmore is poised to have a huge sway over which Republicans will run to replace Murphy when he is restricted in 2025, creating a potential obstacle for Jack Ciattarelli, a former Assemblyman who only made it. just three points away from toppling Murphy in 2021 and immediately declared his intention to run again in 2025.

It’s not nothing. Despite New Jersey’s blue tilt, Republican gubernatorial candidates can and often do win.

Gilmore worked against Ciattarelli in 2021, boosting a far-right candidate, Phil Rizzo, who finished second in the Republican primary. In 2022, when Gilmore ran for president again, former Ciattarelli campaign manager Eric Arpert aided Gilmore’s rival, County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy. “I know Ciattarelli made phone calls against me because people let me know they got them,” Gilmore told POLITICO shortly after winning back the presidency.

Ciattarelli declined to comment on Gilmore. But there are signs he is looking to counter his influence in the county. Arpert, Ciattarelli’s former campaign manager, is a consultant for a new super PAC founded by the wives of a prominent developer and rabbi of the county’s burgeoning Orthodox Jewish community — a potential hedge against Gilmore’s influence.

But Gilmore and Ciattarelli’s relationship, while strained, isn’t necessarily irreparable. The two met on Wednesday, and both described it as a positive discussion. “Like all of my meetings with Republican county chairmen, the discussion is pretty much a private matter,” Ciattarelli said.

Gilmore’s return as president did not begin smoothly. He accused officials who had controlled the party during his absence of removing items from party headquarters late at night and quickly transferring funds out of party accounts. He sued for emails and other documents, with one defendant, Republican Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, calling him ‘someone in serious financial distress who managed to get himself escape from federal prison solely because of his political connections”.

But tensions eased as Gilmore worked to restore his grip on power. This month he agreed to drop his lawsuit, subject to the party’s former chief executive admitting in writing to deleting a Google account to block Gilmore’s access to emails from former party leaders. And after several internal party battles to field candidates for state and local office, some successful and some not, he appears to have secured the support of his chosen nominee to replace a retired state senator — while still ensuring that his candidate will win.

“[A]All the things he said he was going to do, the promises he made to unite everyone and work with everyone again – we hope he sticks to that,” said Ocean County Commissioner Virginia Haines, who has worked with Gilmore for decades and was affiliated with the faction that opposed his return to power. “He tries.”

Meanwhile, Gilmore’s law firm — which before his trial earned about $2 million a year in public contracts statewide — dissolved, and he quit his job as a lobbyist in the one of the largest companies in New Jersey. But there are indications that he is still able to turn his political connections into income, albeit indirectly. An engineering firm run by an ally of Gilmore recently launched a new division to expand its work in the public sector, with Gilmore’s wife as a co-founder.

A relationship did more than anything to help Gilmore regain that powerful position.

Gilmore was sentenced to a year in prison in 2020 for his tax convictions. But he didn’t end up making time because he had something those other politicians didn’t: a key connection to Trump’s world in Bill Stepien, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager and a top White House adviser who had almost seen his years earlier. career ended by the infamous Bridgegate scandal. Stepien had retained a lifeline of income from the GOP super PAC GOPAC, thanks to Gilmore’s help. This connection helped Gilmore secure Trump’s pardon. Late last year, Stepien took over leadership of the Ocean County Republicans’ 2023 campaigns.

Stepien knows firsthand the power of Ocean County in statewide elections. He led former Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s two campaigns in which Ocean County rose, securing Christie’s relatively narrow victory in 2009 and bolstering his landslide reelection in 2013.

“Every Republican in New Jersey should applaud George’s return. If they’re not, they care more about self-interest or their bruised ego than winning elections,” Stepien said. “Campaigns are mathematical equations, and the New Jersey Republican can’t win statewide without the Ocean County margins that only Geroge has been able to achieve for the past 20 years.”

Stepien didn’t call Ciattarelli directly, saying he wasn’t talking about ‘anyone in particular’. But it is difficult to read it otherwise.

“One in seven votes will come from Ocean County in the next statewide primary. So if you’re not spending time trying to build a relationship with George and his team, I have to question your strategy,” Stepien said.

Gilmore declined to comment on the meeting with Murphy and Gopal (D-Monmouth), although Gopal confirmed it. The topics discussed were important to the Jersey Shore area, according to Gopal, though mundane by the standards of those salivating for the juicy political gossip that would flow from such a meeting of apparent political rivals.

“George had reached out to the governor and me individually to want to talk about the shoreline issues affecting Ocean and Monmouth counties,” Gopal said. “He wanted to talk about funding beach replenishment, issues with shacks…and other general funding issues.”

Regardless of what they discussed, the governor’s presence at a meeting with Gilmore sent the real message: Gilmore is once again a powerful force in New Jersey politics.


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