STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — As incumbents prepare to run for Township Council in next month’s first partisan primary in about 30 years, some say partisan politics have begun to muddy the playing field within the local Republican Party.
Almost two years ago, the public voted to make the elections partisan and move them from May to November. Now, two elected officials are calling on the Township Council to rethink partisan elections, as a result of recent political infighting.
At last week’s regular Township Council meeting, Councilman Stephen Fessler said he was not thrilled by the process the local Republican Club used to endorse candidates last month.
“The system is flawed, and not because of the local Republican Club but because of something bigger than the local club. I just think that the system overall is flawed,” Fessler said.
On March 26, six candidates were endorsed, and one incumbent, Democrat-turned-Republican Councilman Robert Kusznikow, did not get an endorsement. Township resident Chris Taylor received an endorsement, but abruptly dropped out of the race last week.
Kusznikow said he also would like the Township Council to re-examine the partisan election process. He said he believes the candidates were chosen because of political pressure from former township Mayor Carl Block and Ocean County Republican Party Chairman George Gilmore.
“With any club, it should be about selecting the people for the jobs they will do best. You’re a representative of the people, not the club. I think the whole process was selfishly carried out,” Kusznikow said Sunday.
Block, who is chariman of the candidate screening process, said he felt no pressure from anyone in the county Republican Party to make decisions at the local level.
“Anyone who says there was pressure is misinformed and doing this for their own political gain,” Block said. “I’ve been mentioning to the club for the last few months that going partisan is a different process and there will be some things to adjust to. I think that is part of what is happening here, adjusting to the partisan process.”
Gilmore said the local Republican organizations select their own candidate and the county does not tell the clubs who should be endorsed and who should not be.
“I can emphatically say I didn’t talk to anyone in the club about voting for anyone for the endorsements. If the individuals are alleging that I called anyone I wish they would give names,” Gilmore said Sunday.
Despite his own endorsement by the club last month, Fessler said he believes some candidates were endorsed as a result of political pressure.
“When I saw that night that the club meeting was stacked with 30 or 40 people and I didn’t know who they were and I thought, maybe they were there because someone told them to come out and told them how to vote,” Fessler said.
Fessler said he is not finger-pointing and holds no hard feelings against the local Republican Club because there are a lot of good, honest, hard-working people in the club, he said.
“The issue with me is that I’m not overly fond of the politics and political games that can be played within the club. I’m not for the political machine. I am here for the people of Stafford Township,” he said.
He said when he and fellow council members decided not to rehire certain township professionals they were blackballed by members of the party.
“John (Spodofora) was asked by the party to bring back some of the good old boys and we didn’t do that. We said we were going to stay the course, so I know he is feeling a lot of pressure,” Fessler said.
Regardless of his recent endorsement by the local Republican Club, there continues to be talk that Spodofora also will drop out of the race before November, although Spodofora denies the claims.
“The caveat is I am dealing with health issues and waiting for tests to come back, and if the tests come back bad my wife Helen and I will make a decision as to whether I will still run,” Spodofora said.
Spodofora will face Democratic candidate Joseph Rua.
The political infighting took a turn last month when Stafford Township Republican Club President Martha Kremer questioned Spodofora’s naval Vietnam service record.
Kremer contended that Spodofora exaggerated his Naval service during the Vietnam War. Spodofora admitted last month that although he served during the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1973, his feet were never in Vietnam.
But despite the media blitz concerning Spodofora’s service, he still managed to secure the endorsement of the same political club that had questioned his story.
“For the sake of the town the infighting has to stop. Unfortunately Steve said some things at the meeting he should not have said concerning the club and that is why I stopped him,” Spodofora said.
Spodofora said he doesn’t know if there’s any evidence of political pressure from Gilmore, Block or any other Republicans at the county level, only that there are a lot of rumors being spread around.
“This doesn’t belong on the dais and I don’t want it to be on the dais. Bottom line is, everyone has to work together. This isn’t about personal feelings. We have to pull together,” he said.
Contact Donna Weaver: