OCEAN COUNTY/BURLINGTON COUNTY, NJ - And, then there were two. Former Burlington County Freeholder was the initial Republican to announce her interest in representing the third congressional district. Barnegat’s own mayor, John Novak, was the first to formally file. Next, Tony Porto, a former mayor from Burlington County, announced his candidacy. David Richter, who planned on running in CD-2, subsequently moved over to join the race to unseat incumbent Congressman Andy Kim.
The Republican primary is now down to just Gibbs and Richter. Early on, the Burlington Republican Committee endorsed Gibbs for the party line. Truth be told, they also supported Richter. However, the Burlington GOP planned on standing behind him in CD-2. That is until Democrat Jeff Van Drew switched parties, and President Donald Trump swiftly backed him. Richter found it best to look for another congressional seat.
In Ocean County, the screening committee, which some refer to as the “party elite,” recommended Gibbs for the line. The Ocean County Republican Organization decided otherwise and endorsed Richter. Primary voters in Burlington County will see Gibbs's name under the same line where Donald Trump’s name appears. Those in Ocean County will find Richter listed.
Many people know one version or another of the back story. From all appearances, the Ocean County Republicans also considered Gibbs the sweetheart favorite. No big names had come out to endorse Novak or Porto. And, Richter was a newcomer, who didn’t even live in the district. That is until the Asbury Park Press broke a story – on Valentine’s Day.
The APP piece revealed that Gibbs had municipal charges, including one for shoplifting at Kohls and another for possession of alcohol on the beach. She pled not guilty to the third charge of possession of a small amount of marijuana and hashish. Gibbs admitted she had a pipe in her possession, but neither of the substances. She was never convicted of criminal charges.
In an interview, Gibbs acknowledged she made mistakes in her youth. While she didn’t hold a press conference before the charges surfaced, she did reveal them to a trusted few and intended to bring them to the light before the general election. She was a bit taken aback when Richter created a salacious video focused on her charges.
Another candidate might have taken the opportunity to bow out of the race. Instead, the next morning, Gibbs appeared before the Ocean County GOP Screening Committee and unanimously won their recommendation.
“I don’t quit,” Gibbs stressed. “I was raised by two incredibly strong women (her mother and maternal grandmother) and learned all about resilience and perseverance during difficult times.”
According to Gibbs, her two female role models taught her to be self-reliant and do for others. Gibbs believes in education and sees it as the silver bullet to change lives. It’s the reason she racked up $100K in loans to put herself through American University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Public Communication and Political Science. She worked the entire time.
In 2008, Gibbs settled down in Lumberton, and landed a position as the Executive Director of the Burlington County Republican Organization. She handled multi-million-dollar budgets and learned about compliance and cash flow issues. Although Gibbs worked full-time, she also entered an accelerated program at Drexel and earned her MBA.
Six years later, Gibbs took on her present job as the Deputy Director for the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, which describes itself as a “collaborative trust focused on creating work opportunities for the members and signatory contractors of Local 825 Operating Engineers.”
Meanwhile, Gibbs fostered a partnership with what was then Burlington Community College and became a trustee. Gibbs focused on workforce development and said she brought a different perspective as a young woman.
At age 29, Gibbs became the youngest woman statewide to become a county freeholder. As freeholder director, Gibbs says she cut taxes and instituted a $20M school security grant to make public schools safer without raising property taxes. She’s proud that the county earned Moody’s AA rating during her tenure.
In the meantime, Gibbs pushed and passed an equal pay resolution for county employees. She also ensured that county buildings all had a dedicated space for nursing and pumping mothers. Gibbs wanted working mothers to have a private and sanitary space, even if it meant setting up nursing pods.
When her term expired, Gibbs lost her reelection to the Burlington County Freeholder Board. According to Gibbs, there are 40,000 more registered Democrats in the county, and the blue wave came through and unseated all Republicans.
“It was 2018, and there were also some anti-Trump sentiments among unaffiliated voters,” opined Gibbs.
Meanwhile, it’s the unaffiliated suburban women that Gibbs thinks will make the difference in taking the third congressional seat away from incumbent Kim. Even with Richter painting a bad picture of her, Gibbs is sure she’s the better candidate.
“There’s something I don’t understand,” shared Gibbs. “I’ve admitted that I did something wrong. It’s part of what made me the woman I am today. I just don’t understand why no one points out Richter’s past.”
According to Gibbs, Richter has a laundry list of questionable actions. She’s quick to accuse her primary opponent of doing business with Gaddafi, a known dictator. Meanwhile, there’s also the issue of Richter’s company putting Joe Biden’s brother on the payroll.
“He hired James Biden and bragged that the name helped open plenty of doors for his business in the Middle East,” Gibbs said. “Isn’t this the definition of “Pay to Play”? How is this going to help the president when he believes that’s what happened with Hunter Biden?”
Gibbs has other issues with Richter’s candidacy, including the fact that he doesn’t live in the district and hasn’t for many years. She feels he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, which she says is not representative of the people in the third congressional district.
“Richter is running on his business acumen,” continued Gibbs. “Yet, he ruined the family business and left because the company’s stockholders didn’t want him there.”
As far as Andy Kim, Gibbs says he ran as a moderate and is a member of the progressive caucus that includes Bernie Sanders and other liberals.
“Kim said he wasn’t going to vote for Nancy Pelosi, and did,” says Gibbs. “He also voted to impeach President Trump.”
One thing is certain. By necessity, the coronavirus has changed the way Gibbs is campaigning against her fellow Republican opponent. Although she’d like the economy to open up soon, she understands the deadly consequences the virus presents.
Last month, Gibbs suffered a personal loss. The grandmother who helped raise her died after testing positive for COVID-19 in an assisted living facility. “Mom-Mom” was 99 and the epitome of perseverance. Gibbs intends to honor her legacy by bringing a dedicated voice to represent the people she considers her neighbors.