LAKEWOOD-Four years ago, the Lakewood Vaad, an influential group that essentially controls the Orthodox Jewish bloc vote here endorsed Governor Chris Christie and hardly anyone noticed.
This year, the Vaad’s robocall to urge Orthodox voters to vote “Column C” was recorded and leaked to the public by am Orthodox watchdog who calls himself the First Amendment Activist.
The bloc vote, along with his overwhelming support base in the county is what helped to propel Christie into another four years in office that November. Christie regularly cited his Ocean County support as the push he needed to get over the finish line in both of his elections.
It’s no secret that securing the Ocean County vote is critical to any Republican that wants to win higher office in New Jersey.
Just four years ago, the Vaad was an organization contained to Lakewood. Most outside of Lakewood didn’t know, or even care what the Vaad was, or who they endorsed, because their choices did not affect their own towns.
Fast forward to 2017, Ocean County is a county divided by fear. Fear that the Lakewood Vaad and the Orthodox Jewish community is on a mission to “take over” neighboring towns of Jackson, Toms River, Brick and Howell. Now, the Vaad’s influence not only affects Lakewood, but all five surrounding towns. Residents are now paying attention, but are voters? And will they come out today in the rain to make their voices heard?
If it was 2013, the Vaad’s endorsement of the establishment column C Republicans, such as Guadagno would have been the icing on the cake to secure their wins.
This year the Vaad’s blessing could be the kiss of death as for the first time in many years, Ocean County’s “Column C” Republicans are facing serious primary challenges.
It was Ocean County gubernatorial candidate Joseph Rullo who viewed Guadagno’s endorsement by the Vaad as, “selling her soul”. Rullo said his message was not a religious one, but one that emphasized his platform of not engaging in any negotiations or deal making with any collective voting units, whether it’s the religious power brokers at the Vaad, influential union leaders or party bosses. Rullo said at the end of the day, if he wins, he doesn’t want to owe anything to any of them, or have it appear that he’s in anyone’s pocket except for the people of New Jersey. Rullo said he wasn’t interested in reaching out to the Vaad in the primary election, or any powerbrokers for that matter.
Our original news story was read over 100,000 times and shared thousands of times in just a few days, with hundreds of readers expressing their displeasure and their intent to not support Guadagno, but how far down-ballot with that fervor run and will those who are commenting on social media actually show up to vote today?
If they do, damage could be significant in several Ocean County races including the District 12 primary in Jackson where Senator Samuel Thompson’s Row C team could face Vaad endorsement backlash in the polls. Thompson last year drew his own criticism after voting in favor of the $14 million annual subsidy to fund a private school bussing consortium in Lakewood. That pilot program was rolled out this year, but could it soon be a template to be used in neighboring towns of Toms River, Jackson, Brick and Howell? That has some voters worried about Thompson’s future plans.
In Toms River, the Row C establishment line is facing a powerful challenge from Lavallette police officer Justin Lamb in the township’s waterfront first ward.
If offline candidates can muster a good showing on Tuesday in the polls, it could turn Republican politics in Ocean County upside down. In the past, challengers couldn’t compete with the party money, but this year is a case study that solid platforms and a strong conservative approach could weaken the establishment’s grip on county politics and allow the residents of Ocean County a seat at the table, not longer the dogs that beg for scraps from the floor. Wins could embolden other Republicans seeking to normalize politics and to remove the rampant nepotism, cronyism and patronage to seek office in future years.
In a few years, analysts might look back as June 6, 2017 as the spark of the Republican Revolution in Ocean County, or the party leaders could look back and laugh it off as the year the people thought they could rise up against their power, but failed, because Facebook fervor doesn’t win elections.
The destiny of Ocean County’s Republican landscape is now in the hands of the voters.