Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lynch’s role and intrigues in Monmouth County

(Published in the December 22 issue of The Courier.)

Lynch’s role and intrigues in Monmouth County

By JACKIE CORLEY


Are the losses of Monmouth Democrats in part caused by an internal split that has been orchestrated by forces outside the county?

For years state Democratic leaders have been looking at Monmouth as a county with a Republican vice-grip upon it that could be broken. The demographics seemed obvious: Monmouth is not Hudson County, where 42.5 percent of registered voters are Democrats, or Sussex County, where 34.2 percent of registered voters are Republicans, as of 2005.

What the Numbers Say

Contrasted to the rest of the state, Monmouth has the largest percentage of unaffiliated voters compared to its base of registered voters. Out of 396,047 registered voters in Monmouth County, 256,154 or 64.7 percent were unaffiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties, as of June 2005.

Additionally, the percentage of registered Democrats compared to the percentage of registered Republicans within the county voting bloc is third closest in the state; only Burlington and Bergen counties have a tighter spread percentage between Democrats or Republicans. When it comes to affiliated voters in Monmouth County, 65,390 or 16.5 percent of total registered voters aligned themselves with the Democratic Party, while 73,117 or 18.5 percent of total registered voters have aligned themselves with the Republican Party.

The demographics being what they are, how has Monmouth remained a Republican stronghold for decades?

The well-oiled machinery of the Republican Party plays no small part. And while the county Republicans have had their share of squabbles, such as the ouster of long-time Monmouth Republican Chairman Bill Dowd in June 2004, any issues have remained largely internal.

In the Monmouth County Democratic Party, struggles for the heart of the organization have come as much from neighboring Middlesex County and former state Sen. John Lynch, D-Middlesex, as they have from within.

Additionally, as the Monmouth County Democratic Organization faced internal challenges for the party leadership in recent years, challenges often well-funded by a Political Action Committee (PAC) controlled by Lynch, money from Lynch’s business partners have found its way into Monmouth Republican coffers.

Lynch: ‘Invader’ from the North?

The day after this year’s November General Election, FBI officers raided the Tinton Falls offices, located at Suite 10 on 1 Executive Drive, of Lynch and his business partner, Jack Westlake.

The pair's Monmouth offices house Alma Ltd., Executive Continental Inc. and the New Directions Through Responsible Leadership PAC, according to Election Law Enforcement Committee (ELEC) reports.

In recent interviews conducted by daily newspapers in the state, Lynch has stated that he and Westlake share control of Executive Continental, a subsidiary of Alma Ltd., which was incorporated by Westlake.

Lynch, considered a heavy-hitter in Middlesex politics, was a political mentor to former Gov. James McGreevey before the pair severed ties in the early 2000s. Lynch's own career in elected office ended in 2001 when he retired from the New Jersey Senate.

Labels in the press, such as "king-maker" and "de facto boss," have followed Lynch into retirement. These labels, Lynch has said publicly, are what he believes have drawn the FBI to investigate his business dealings.

Area residents may have been surprised to learn of Lynch’s presence in Monmouth following the FBI raid, when it made headlines in the media.

However, Lynch has had an involvement in Monmouth County politics for a number of years, and the belief that Lynch has been pining for a foothold in Monmouth County is an open secret in the Monmouth County Democratic Organization.

“He’s wanted influence in Monmouth County, no doubt about it,” Middletown Democratic Chairman Joe Caliendo said.

Caliendo said the challenges to Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Victor Scudiery's leadership in recent years were anchored in Lynch's desire to extend his sphere of influence into Monmouth County.

One of the most prominent turf battles for the Monmouth County Democratic Party occurred in 2003. That was when Scudiery supported state Sen. Ellen Karcher, 12th District, in a contentious primary battle against Oceanport Mayor Gordon Gemma, who received significant backing by Lynch. Also that year, Assemblyman Robert Morgan, D-Monmouth, was challenged by Fair Haven business owner Amy Mallet in the 2003 race. The New Directions PAC funded Gemma and Mallet’s failed primary attempt to the tune of $14,400.

Also, a 2000 race for the Monmouth County Democratic chairmanship pitted Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna against Scudiery. McKenna received $5,000 from the New Directions PAC for the ultimately unsuccessful attempt. Lynch's PAC has continued to support McKenna's role as a Democratic leader in Monmouth County, contributing $9,700 to the Red Bank Democratic Party and $2,500 to the Monmouth County Council of Democrat Leaders PAC, a committee McKenna is affiliated with, since 2002.

Lynch's support for McKenna has been reciprocated, with the Red Bank Democratic Party, McKenna and his law firm contributing at least $5,500 since 2002.

Additionally, some specific municipal Democratic parties in Monmouth County have received funding from New Directions Through Responsible Leadership on more than one occasion since the PAC’s inception. In addition to the Red Bank Democratic Party, these municipal parties include: the Atlantic Highlands Democratic Party, the Manalapan Democratic Party and the West Long Branch Democratic Party.

As for Monmouth County Legislative District races, the Democratic candidates in the 13th District received $3,000 since 1999, with $500 coming from Executive Continental to Assembly candidates Patrick Gillespie and Alex DeSevo in 1999; $2,000 from the New Directions PAC to state senatorial candidate Bill Flynn in 2003; and $500 to Flynn and his Assembly running mates, Leonard Inzerillo and Thomas Perry, also in 2003. No contributions were made to the 2005 Democratic 13th District race, in which candidate Michael Dasaro, who ran with Flynn, made considerable issue of the financial relationship between developer Jack Morris, also a Lynch partner in a Brick land deal, and state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, R-Monmouth.

In addition to the campaign funds contributed to Gemma and Mallet in the 12th District primary race, then assembly-candidate Gemma and running mate William Scherer received $2,000 from Alma Ltd. in 2001; Karcher received $2,000 from Westlake and $2,000 from the New Directions PAC in the 2003 general election; and Morgan and Assemblyman Michael Panter, D-Monmouth, received $500 from New Directions in 2004.

In the 11th District, Assembly candidate Matthew Doherty received $500 from the New Directions PAC this year.

During the time that Lynch made his presence known in Monmouth through contributions from New Directions, the 2000 and 2003 challenges to Scudiery’s leadership occurred, as did a stunted attempt by McKenna’s law partner and Democratic fundraiser Michael DuPont, who considered running for the chairman post in 2004.

And though individual Monmouth Democrats and municipal campaigns have benefited from Lynch's fundraising capabilities, his PAC has not financially supported the Monmouth County Democratic Organization to the same level as it has other county Democratic organizations throughout the state. The Monmouth County Democratic Party received $5,000 from the PAC since 2001, while southern neighbor Ocean County, also a heavily Republican-controlled part of the state, received $84,500 for its Democratic organization and northern neighbor Middlesex County, Lynch's home territory, received $133,000 for its Democratic organization.

Lynch: A Monmouth Republican Supporter?

While the fact that a PAC under Lynch's control would not contribute funds to a county leadership it has taken exception to is not unusual, what does stand out in ELEC reports listing Suite 10 at 1 Executive Drive as home to numerous campaign contributions are the funds given to the Monmouth County Republican Party by Alma Ltd.

Lynch has publicly stated to other news outlets that Westlake consulted with him about forming Alma Ltd. during the early 1990s. Lynch and Westlake subsequently decided that Westlake alone would incorporate Alma Ltd. and a subsidiary company, later called Executive Continental, Inc., would be formed out of Alma Ltd. to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest for Lynch, who was still a state senator at the time.

Nevertheless, Alma Ltd. has become a significant source of funds for the Democratic Party, in much the same way that the New Directions PAC listed at the same address had.

Of the $125,450 contributed to campaigns and political organizations by Alma Ltd., with 94 percent of such donations being made between 1998 and 2005, $106,500 went to Democratic candidates and committees.

Alma Ltd., however, has not neglected Republicans: $18,900 in contributions were made to state Republicans. Of the $18,900 in Republican contributions from Alma Ltd., $12,400 went to Monmouth County Republicans.

The Monmouth County Republican Party received a total of $5,500 in annual donations made between 1999 and 2004. The contributions stood in the $650 to $750 range until August 2004, when a $2,000 donation was made. This compares to $3,000 in total contributions to the Monmouth County Democratic Party by Alma Ltd., made between 2002 and 2004.

Other contributions to Monmouth County Republicans by Alma Ltd. include: $650 total to Assemblyman Steve Corodemus, R-Monmouth, in contributions made between 1998 and 1999; $1,800 total to former state Sen. John Bennett, R-Monmouth, in contributions made between 1999 and 2002; and $3,800 to Kyrillos, a former New Jersey State Republican Committee chairman, made between 2000 and 2005.

Kyrillos came under fire this summer when it was revealed that, while counseling Democrat-controlled Aberdeen Township and then-Republican-controlled Matawan Borough for a resolution to the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station redevelopment project, he had accepted over $50,000 from Jack Morris in campaign contributions. Morris is a Middlesex-based developer and a Lynch business partner whose company, the Columbia Group, was ultimately selected by the Matawan Borough Council as its designated redeveloper.

Morris has been a very successful fundraiser for Middlesex Democrats in recent years. Since 2000, Morris and his companies have contributed over $500,000 to Democrats and Democratic political organizations throughout the state. Of that money, at least $140,000 has gone to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, ELEC reports.

Why would the leader of the New Jersey State Republican Party be accepting funds so closely associated with the so-called Middlesex County Democratic boss, a man who has been doing everything in his power to defeat Middlesex Republicans? Kyrillos has not returned calls to this office to answer questions for this article.

Kyrillos was chairman of the state’s Republican Party from 2001 to 2004.

Middlesex Republicans' Up-hill Battle

For years, Middlesex Republicans have been fighting an up-hill battle to raise funds in a county where the Middlesex Democratic Party is largely in control of the area's municipal and county-wide offices. Subsequently, Middlesex Democrats have been able to draw on the generosity of numerous professional services firms and developers to fill its political coffers.

Is the Middlesex Republican Party destined to minority status because of the financial power of the Middlesex Democratic organization, or has a dry fund-raising well kept the Middlesex Republicans from encroaching on Democratic territory? The question may bit of a "chicken or the egg" scenario, but the Middlesex County Republican Committee has seen little in terms of funding by the state to even put the question to the test.

Middlesex had the second largest base of undeclared voters in the state (Bergen County had claims to first place) at the height of Kyrillos' tenure as state Republican leader in 2002. Nevertheless, the county organization saw only approximately $28,000 in contributions and in-kind contributions from the state party from mid-2001 to 2005.

In total, approximately $2,016,000 has been contributed or given as in-kind contributions to county organizations during that time, with $45,000 of that money being expended since Tom Wilson took over the reins as state Republican chairman in December 2004.

Therefore, the $28,000 amount places Middlesex County 13th out of 19 counties that received money from the state for the county party organization and county-wide races during that time period. (Hunterdon and Sussex counties, both heavily Republican, relied on internal fundraising alone to finance their races.) The counties out-ranking Middlesex in terms of state GOP spending included Democratic powerhouses Essex, Union, Camden and Hudson. Counties that saw less funds from the state than Middlesex from June 2001 to 2005 Cape May, Morris, Atlantic, Salem, Warren and Mercer.

Neighboring Monmouth and Ocean counties were at the top end of the spectrum, receiving approximately $232,000 and $136,000 respectively from the state during that time. Notably, all the donations and in-kind contributions that came to Monmouth from the state between June 2001 and 2005 were made after Fred Niemann replaced Dowd as Monmouth County Republican chairman.

Today, both the Monmouth County Democratic and Republican parties are experiencing change. What direction these changes take may ultimately be tied to Lynch’s involvement in both parties and Kyrillos’ involvement with Lynch.

(A request for an interview with Sen. Lynch was not answered by this article’s deadline.)

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12 Comments:

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Frank said...

The primary purpose of the Mounmouth County Board of Freeholders seems to be to provide political patronage jobs to the Republican party. The waste and corruption is staggering. And yet the APP, which published the Club Monmouth series this summer, could not endorse a Democrat running for Freeholder. Their opinion was the Democrats would be just as corrupt.

Real Estate taxes have skyrocketed, but it is business as usual in Freehold. How do you fix it? You can't really. It's too institutionalized. You need to dismantle it. Let the towns and the state take over whatever it is the county does. Eliminate some of the waste and duplication.

Finally, this county government is a perfect example of what happens when there is a one party rule. And no matter how bad it gets, we'll continue to re-elect them.

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

They're looking into Mercer County now, Jackie.

 
At 4:55 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

They're looking into Mercer County now, Jackie.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Re: Frank

I personally think Lillian Burry is a wonderful woman and will serve the county well.

All the same, I found the APP's schizo position on the board of freeholders race quite strange, i.e. blame Billy Barham, who had been there for six months, and Lillian Burry, who wasn't on that board at all, for the problems with overspending, yet endorse Amy Handlin, who had been on the board for 15 years, for assembly.

I do agree that NJ's county governments are more effective patronage vehicles than avenues for helping the public.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

abe,

they're looking into EVERYthing. how many towns have had to show their records to the FBI by now? it must be upwards of a dozen. in monmouth, red bank and neptune have had to submit some files.

it looks like the FBI wants lynch very badly.

 
At 1:44 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

I can't wait till they look at Norcross.

 
At 2:21 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

I don't think they'll go there. Lynch's star is fading. Norcross is still incredibly powerful. I'm fearless to a fault and I wouldn't go anywhere near that guy in print.

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

If you had the goods on him you would.

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

This is true -- I probably wouldn't be able to help myself, though it would be suicidal. I've heard rumors that he's screwed around with reporters who have dared to bring up controversial stuff about him in print.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

"I've heard rumors that he's screwed around with reporters who have dared to bring up controversial stuff about him in print."

That has potential to be a story in itself! Normally it is best for one who reports the news to avoid becoming the news, but this guy is just crying out for the bright light of the truth to be shone directly on him. The major dailies would avoid doing anything anyway because of their desire to be loved. If something about Norcross actually made it into print, phone calls would be made and the reporter in question would find him/herself covering "lifestyle" type stories, not to mention the editor who allowed the story to see the light of day.
Somehow I don't see Mr. Purcell giving in to that sort of hardball. He'd probably just hang up on him.

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

We in the blogosphere can do more, too.

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Frank said...

Where else can an ouside counsel bill you for $400,000 per year, but be enrolled in your health ($40 per month) and retirement plans?

 

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