BARNEGAT, NJ – When he first entered the race, Barnegat Mayor John Novak made no secret about it. His decision to pursue the seat to replace Congressman Andy Kim came via a series of divine messages. And, since God hasn’t told him to do otherwise – Novak’s not giving up his quest.
Although Novak was the first to declare as a Republican, he’s not the only one who believes he can turn a congressional seat from blue to red. In fact, former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs has already received nods of support from the political hierarchy in the two counties that encompass the third congressional district.
The Burlington County Republican Committee endorsed Gibbs for the party line in December of last year. Most recently, the Ocean County Republican’s nine-member screening committee made the same recommendation. It remains to be seen what will happen after the Ocean County Republicans hold their mini-convention next week.
From all appearances, Gibb’s endorsement from Burlington County came without the revelation of what some refer to as her “youthful indiscretions.” However, the same can’t be said about the Ocean County screening committee.
It could have been Gibb’s version of a Valentine’s Day Massacre. On February 14th, the Asbury Park Press published an article that some thought killed the sole female candidate’s chances of further party support. The headlines identified the Republican frontrunner as an admitted shoplifter. The story documented other charges– including one for marijuana possession and another for having alcohol on the beach. Court records indicate all three offenses occurred between 2007 and 2014.
Jack Kelly chairs the Ocean County Republican Party’s screening committee. APP reporter Erik Larsen reached out to him the day before the article became public. Larsen reported that Kelly’s only comment was to “express surprise” at the revelations about Gibbs' encounters with the law.
“The screening committee met with Gibbs on Saturday at 10:15 am, “ said Novak. “I find it interesting that 36 hours after he said he was surprised, Kelly said she addressed the “issue head-on.” Larsen reported it was Gibbs’ “forthrightness” that convinced the committee she deserved their unanimous endorsement.
Novak, a trial attorney, said that he takes in everything and reads people as part of his job. This included his observation that one of Gibbs’ “handlers” had her ear to the door to seemingly eavesdrop on how things were going during the candidate’s interview with the screening committee.
“All along, there’s been the appearance that Gibbs’ handlers are afraid of their candidate giving answers on her own,” Novak said.
Long before any criminal allegations came to light, TAPintoBarnegat/Waretown attempted to interview Kate Gibbs. The other three Republicans running to unseat Andy Kim have all shared their views with the hyperlocal digital newspaper whose readership includes a large segment of CD-3 voters.
Not only did Gibbs disregard the contact requests, she even ignored an inquiry asking permission to use photographs from her Facebook page that showed her with local Ocean Township (Waretown) officials.
As it turns out, Novak knew about Gibbs’ issues before they came out in the press, however he denies he shared them with anyone. “I met Gibbs face to face when the Burlington County Republicans were doing their screening process,” shared Novak. “I told her then that I am not a person who hits below the belt and would only focus on things she did as a freeholder and her position on policies.”
In Novak’s opinion, it’s not just that Gibbs lost her second term as a county freeholder to a Democrat facing domestic violence charges. Among other things, there’s a vote she refused to abstain from when she was the Burlington County Freeholder Director.
According to their website, Kate Gibbs is the Deputy Director of Local 825 Operating Engineers, which touts her as leading business development. When Gibbs was a freeholder, she was asked to vote upon the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would go through both Burlington and Ocean counties. Local 825 members testified in support of the project.
“The Pinelands Preservation Alliance said that Gibbs had a conflict and shouldn’t vote on the issue,” said Novak. “She claimed she had a legal opinion that said otherwise and voted in favor of allowing the construction.”
Weeks later, the Alliance sued, and Gibbs and another freeholder were among the named defendants. Ultimately, the court barred and enjoined the Burlington County Freeholders from making any further action on the pipeline without the court’s permission. The court judge also voided Gibbs’ vote.
“It’s just one example of Gibbs using poor judgment,” Novak asserted. “She’s a weak candidate.”
In supporting the reasons he’s the man to take on Andy Kim, Novak also shared the shortcomings he’s found in David Richter as a CD-3 opponent. Notably, it’s not just that Richter switched his candidacy from CD-2 and doesn’t yet live in the district.
“According to reports, Richter resigned his position as CEO of Hill International after mounting shareholder pressure,” said Novak. “During his tenure in that position, the company saw an $11.2M revenue drop. Additionally, the business experienced a 14.2% decline in operational efficiency.”
In an interview with TAPintoBarnegat/Waretown, Richter asserted it was his father who initiated ties with a member of a Biden family. And, that he (David) fired James Biden.
Meanwhile, Novak points to information suggesting Richter bragged about the connection. According to a FOX Business piece, Richter spoke during a private investors’ meeting about the success of HillStone International, a subsidiary of Hill International.
“Someone at that meeting told Fox that David Richter admitted that “it really helps to have the brother of the vice president as a partner,” said Novak. “Richter’s also contributed to the campaigns of Democratic candidates.”
According to Novak, Richter campaigns on bringing more jobs to the third congressional district. “Yet, while he was CEO of Hill, the company moved their headquarters and 120 jobs from Marlton to Philadelphia.”
Richter doesn’t see Novak as a real threat to winning the party line or primary to go up against Andy Kim. “John’s a nice guy,” he said. “However, he only has support in his hometown and is therefore not a viable candidate.”
When it comes to Gibbs, Richter terms her as a terrible candidate. He neither confirmed nor denied that he fed the Asbury Park Press the information about her encounters with law enforcement. However, Richter has used them in a Facebook video ad that’s in circulation before any scheduled elections.
“One you’ve committed a crime – especially an ethical crime,” said Richter. “You should be disqualified from running from office. Gibbs wasn’t a child when she faced charges.”
The Gibbs campaign has tried to turn the tables on Richter, citing his driving record. Richter admitted that he’s been guilty of speeding as he’s always in a rush to meetings. However, he said that Gibbs throwing around his traffic violations shows that she couldn’t find anything better.
“I am expecting to win the convention when the full Ocean County organizational heads vote,” Richter asserted. “I am gaining support even with Gibbs playing the victim card.”
Both Gibbs and Richter received endorsement from the Burlington Republican Committee. However, at the time, Richter planned to run against then Democrat Jeff Van Drew in CD-2. When Van Drew switched parties, and President Trump endorsed him, Richter looked for another available seat.
Richter honed in on the third congressional district, with a commitment to move to Ocean County by the end of the year. He doesn’t consider himself a newcomer to CD-3 as he previously resided in it.
According to Richter, the switch gave Gibbs a six-month head start on building relationships within the district. And, her support began with every woman on the county screening committee.
Like Novak, Richter pointed out that Gibbs lost her freeholder seat – by 10,000 votes. He attributed this in part to her desire to turn Burlington County into a sanctuary county.
“Gibbs doesn’t have a strong record as a freeholder,” said Richter. “She also seems to be doing everything in her power to stay away from President Trump.”
Former Hainesport Mayor Anthony Porto announced his candidacy to run against Andy Kim at the beginning of the year. By that time, Gibbs had already received the endorsement in their home county.
“I don’t understand why Burlington County rushed the process before it was even 2020,” Porto shared. “I don’t remember an official meeting ever being called. It seems to be an endorsement from the chairman alone.”
In Ocean County, Porto never received an invitation to go before the screening committee. And, he won’t be showing up at the mini-convention unless he’s invited. Porto said it would be like showing up without an invitation to someone’s home.
However, the lack of endorsement won’t stop Porto from running in the primaries. His background in public service is coupled with a great deal of fiscal awareness. Porto cited concerns with the trillion dollar deficit, costly military intervention, and opening up markets to American goods as his focus.
“I plan on making my case to voters that we need to take back the house,” stressed Porto. “Andy Kim voted for Nancy Pelosi as the speaker and continues to vote for her. We need to regain the majority and work together as one party.”