Camden County GOP chairman DeMichele resigns

Posted: March 04, 2011

Camden County Republican chairman Rick DeMichele Jr. announced his resignation Thursday, following a weeklong campaign by some of his former candidates to unseat him.

In a blog post on the party website, DeMichele wrote that the mounting personal attacks against him had taken their toll.

"Until today I was prepared to stand with the majority of the members of the County Committee and defend myself and our organization," he wrote. "The cowardly personal attacks have made it apparent to me that as long as I remain Chair, these disgruntled, cowardly detractors will stand in the way of this year's Republican candidates up and down the ballot."

Being a Republican in Camden County has long been a losing proposition. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1, and the opposition headed by behind-the-scenes Democratic political power broker George Norcross has been virtually unstoppable for two decades.

In November's county freeholder race, the Camden County GOP fielded local supermarket magnate George Zallie to go up against two seemingly vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Zallie put up more than $150,000 of his own money, bringing the GOP's campaign spending close to, if not even with, that of Democrats, but he still got trounced on Election Day.

Fallout from that loss seemed to take hold last week, with a contingent of former GOP candidates, including Zallie running mate Scot DeCristofaro, attacking DeMichele's five-year record as party chair.

"A lot of things have been going bad for a long time," said Joe Adolf, a Republican who has run more than once for state Senate. "It's unfortunate it had to happen this way, but it's the best for the Republican Party of Camden County."

Protest centered on the sizable number of races in which Democrats went unchallenged in the last election and DeMichele's recent push to challenge some incumbent Republicans in the next primary.

DeMichele, a 41-year-old lawyer who lives in Haddonfield, said earlier in the week that he had no plans to resign and believed the calls for his ouster would blow over.

"It's not the first time I dealt with a candidate who didn't win," he said Tuesday. "If you look at my record in terms of fund-raising and winning races in places we haven't usually won, this is unwarranted."

As the infighting continued and accusations were hurled, the number of people lining up against DeMichele grew.

Republican political consultant Steve Kush, well known for flamboyant tactics to try to discredit Camden County Democrats - for a period he used the term "Nash cash" to refer to money he claimed went to no-show jobs for supporters of Democratic Freeholder Jeff Nash - turned against his former ally.

Hours after saying he had tried to broker a peace accord between the two sides, Kush put out a news release Wednesday rife with personal and professional attacks against DeMichele, whom he called a "control freak."

"Quite honestly, Rick and I have had a rocky relationship since his middle-of-the-night, slurred-speech phone call to me back when I was working on Jersey Joe Pennacchio's senate campaign," Kush wrote.

On Thursday, DeMichele called the story "patently false."

Even DeMichele wife's position as a lawyer at Cooper University Hospital, long the domain of Norcross, was offered by detractors as evidence that DeMichele was playing for the other side.

In an interview after his resignation announcement, DeMichele explained how he had sat on his couch Wednesday night, after a meeting with a candidate running for freeholder, and wondered whether he was hurting the Republican cause.

"I got involved in this five years ago because I thought I could help Republicans get elected," he said. "This minority group personally doesn't like me, and I didn't believe they would stop."

As the crisis brewed, most of the Republican establishment stood behind DeMichele and argued that his success since taking over had spawned detractors.

Haddon Heights Mayor Scott Alexander, who has hosted visits from Gov. Christie, theorized that the campaign against DeMichele could be the work of Democratic operatives eager to rid themselves of their first real competition in decades.

"Anything's possible," he said. "It's a slow process to chip away at the power base the Democrats have established. It takes time."

The question now among county Republican insiders is who will lead the next challenge to Democratic dominance. Names were traded around on Thursday as news of DeMichele's resignation spread.

Adolf, who helped to spearhead the campaign against DeMichele, said he had been asked. But he said he wasn't sure whether he would seek the position when it goes to a vote before the county committee.

"This was not an action planned to get someone new elected county chairman," he said. "This was about getting Rick DeMichele out. We had lost confidence in him."


Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.

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