Republican insiders in New Jersey's deepest red county narrowly chose a felon pardoned by President Trump to once again lead their party.

George Gilmore's political comeback took a major step Thursday night when he was re-elected as head of the Ocean County Republican Committee.

He beat out Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy by a vote of 333-320 to return to the position he had held from 1996 until 2019. Frank B. Holman III, Gilmore's successor, had supported Mastronadry's candidacy.

The 71-year-old Gilmore stepped down when he was charged with federal tax evasion and owing more than $1.5 million while spending lavishly on vacations and multiple homes.

He faced a six-count indictment charging him with evading taxes from 2013 to 2015, filing false tax returns in 2013 and 2014, failing to pay payroll taxes in 2016 and making false statements on a 2015 loan application to Ocean First Bank.

A jury found Gilmore guilty only on the payroll tax and loan application charges. He was acquitted of filing false tax returns while the jury deadlocked on the tax evasion charges.  He was sentenced to one year and one day in prison although he never served his sentence: Trump pardoned him while he remained free on appeal.

Former governors of both parties — Chris Christie, Jim Florio, Jim McGreevey and Donald DiFrancisco — lobbied for the president's favor. In commuting Gilmore's sentence, Trump wrote: "Mr. Gilmore has made important civic contributions over his career in New Jersey."

A divided party

Gilmore now has to bring together a divided county party that could be seen as symbolic of the Republican party as a whole: one that backs Trump and another that does not.

“It’s America again in Ocean County,” Gilmore told supporters after his win echoing the favorite phrase of Trump, according to the Asbury Park Press

Some county political observers believe Gilmore still wields the power he held before his conviction that will better serve the county and to grow membership among county newcomers. Ocean County the most Republicans of any county in New Jersey.

Mastronardy had never run for political office before beyond sheriff. The law enforcement veteran had the backing of the entire Ocean County Commissioners board and gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli.

Gilmore backed Phil Rizzo in the 2019 GOP gubernatorial race for governor won by Ciattarelli.

Gilmore told the NJ Globe he will begin holding “regional meetings” to reunite the county party.

Photo courtesy Jersey Shore Online

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Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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