Anna Little, with good reason, has been taking credit for John Bennett’s election as Monmouth GOP Chairman. If not for Little endorsing her benefactor and encouraging the County Committee members who are also Tea Party activists to vote for Bennett, Christine Hanlon would be Chairwoman.
Little’s reward, whatever it is, will come sometime after she loses to Frank Pallone in November.
The biggest change that Bennett has made since taking over the helm of the Monmouth GOP six weeks ago is to start to make good on his campaign promise to raise the money necessary for county campaigns. He has informed the Monmouth GOP ticket of Freeholders John Curley and Serena DiMaso, as well as County Clerk Claire French, not to worry about rasing money for the fall campaign. He has instructed office holders not on the ballot this fall, including the legislative delegation and the sheriff, all of whom have campaigns next year, to suspend their fund raising activities effective August 1 so as not to compete with his efforts for the current campaign.
But how will he raise the money?
MMM has learned that Bennett’s finance team includes former Monmouth GOP Chairman Fred Niemann, former Freeholder Bill Barham and Brookdale Chairman Josh Elkes.
Those who remember Little’s brief and tumultuous tenure as a freeholder will appreciate the irony.
No sooner had Little been elected freeholder, by one vote over then Howell Mayor Joe DiBella, at a contentious County Committee convention charged with replacing Amy Handlin who had been elected to the Assembly, did she pick a very public fight with Niemann and Elkes by turning down a donation from one of seven PACs they had set up to collect campaign funds from county vendors that exceeded pay to play restrictions for direct donations.
Little, Handlin and The Asbury Park Press made Neimann’s, and finance chair Elkes’ PACs toxic. The seven PACs had similar names, all had the same treasurer and all had the same address. $55,000 of the $68,0000 that the PACs had raised came from county contractors. Within weeks of the APP headlines featuring the new Freeholder Little and Handlin, long the government reform champion of the APP, criticising the GOP fund raising methods, Neimann announced he would not seek another term as Chairman.
In the post Operation Bid Rig environment locally and against an anti-war – anti-Bush environment nationally, Little positioned herself as an anti-establishment reformer. She bucked the Democratic wave of 2006, getting elected that November along with Barbara McMarrow, the first Democrat elected to the Freeholder Board in two decades.
Little spent her tenure as freeholder at war with Barham over cost overruns to the Hall of Records renovation which was being performed by a firm that had seperate business interests with Barham, and with Neimann’s successor as chairman, Adam Puharic. Puharic and Barham manuevered Little off of the GOP ticket for reelection in 2007, but she landed on her feet when Highlands Mayor Rick O’Neil unexpectedly withdrew from his reelection race. The Highlands GOP, where Little’s husband was chairman, tabbed her to replace O’Neil and she won a tight four-way race. Badly damaged politically with their battles with Little, Barham and Puharic did not seek reelection in 2008.
By supporting Bennett for chairman, Little has returned Neimann, Barham and Elkes to positions of power and influence in the Monmouth GOP.
And the PACs are probably coming back. MMM has also learned that CME Engineering, the PAC masters of the Middlesex Democratic Organization, has also been invited into Bennett’s finance circle.
When last we heard of CME in Monmouth, they were funding the Middletown Democrats.
The Little vs Neimann, Elkes and Barham situation is not the only irony in the new fund raising team.
Freeholder Director John Curley, who is running for reelection this fall, has been calling for Elkes resignation from the Brookdale Community College Board of Trustees, which he chairs, since February of 2011.
Curley was unaware that Elkes was part of Bennett’s finance team until so informed by MMM. He chuckled. “I don’t care how much money he raises, he’s not going to be reappointed to the Brookdale Board of Trustees. He’s part of the old guard there. I am going to lead that fight.”