Departing Gloucester County GOP chief leaves mixed legacy

William Fey won party control of the freeholder board during his tenure as chairman. He resigned last week.
William Fey won party control of the freeholder board during his tenure as chairman. He resigned last week.
Posted: June 13, 2012

A more robust but still divided Gloucester County Republican Party is poised to replace its chairman, William Fey, Wednesday night, three years after he took the helm and led a surprisingly successful effort to capture seats in the longtime Democratic stronghold.

Saying he "just ran out of gas," Fey resigned last week, one year before his second two-year term was set to end. He first attracted attention in November 2009 when he helped persuade county voters to break ranks with the Democrats and choose Republican Christopher J. Christie as governor.

The following year, Fey got two political newcomers elected to the county Board of Freeholders. The victory broke the Democrats' decadelong stranglehold on the board and stung Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who at the time was also the county's freeholder director.

But despite his successes, Fey's tenure was roiled by continual party infighting and primary contests.

"You have individuals who always think they can do it better, kind of like snipers. It's unfortunate you have those, but it's part of politics and it is tough to get used to that," he said this week.

The GOP could gain control of the five-member freeholder board if it picks up one of the two Democratic seats up for grabs in November, when the presidential election is expected to spur voter turnout.

Fey, a business executive from Franklin Township, says he plans to remain active in the party but wants to devote more time to his wife and three children and to his career in a manufacturing company. The chairmanship, he said, had demanded his time seven days a week. "I've put in my time," he said.

Vice chair Barbara Capelli said Freeholder Larry Wallace had been tapped by the party organization to assume the county party's reins.

"We want someone who can give it their all," she said. Though she will miss Fey and his expertise, she said, "he really wasn't a one-man show. He put people in key positions to take us to that next level, to build from the bottom up."

Wallace declined comment. As in past years, anyone in the party can ask to be considered when the executive committee votes.

Last year, former Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco challenged Fey for the post and he reportedly is considering another try. DiCicco could not be reached for comment.

The county Democratic Party is also voting on whether to reelect its chair, State Sen. Fred Madden.

Fey said that during his tenure the GOP took control of about half of the county's 24 municipal governments and won 62 local seats, up from 37 when he first came on board. He said he particularly relished winning party control of his hometown council and also that of West Deptford, Sweeney's hometown, long a Democratic bastion.

Sweeney did not return a call to his office for comment.

Despite his successes, Fey's tenure has been stormy. In 2009, he wrested the chairmanship from Loran Oglesby in a bitter fight that splintered the party. Over the next two years, Oglesby and her supporters challenged Fey's endorsed slates for freeholder and several other seats. She had been chair for four years and had run unsuccessfully for several political offices.

Meanwhile, the Democrats had no such contests.

Fey, 50, said he was "pleasantly surprised" this year when the GOP freeholder candidates endorsed by the county party were unopposed. Are the rifts healed? "I'm happy to see the Republican Party is moving in the right direction" was all he would say.

Fey said he was "a real oddity" as a county party chairman compared with others in the state. Many of them, he said, hold political office, are lobbyists, or have contracts with the state. "I was a businessman with a full-time job" separate from government, he said.

Though there was no contested Republican primary for the two freeholder seats in play this year, a GOP primary fight for mayor and council in Washington Township turned nasty in recent weeks and threatened to upset the newfound harmony.

Fey decided to stay neutral and would not give the candidates endorsed by the township Republican party special placement on the ballot.

"The Washington Township group is very upset ... but I felt it was in the best interest of the county to stay neutral," Fey said. The two slates appeared on the same line.

The slate endorsed by township GOP Chairman Mike Pascetta did go on to win, and Pascetta accused Fey of not being loyal to the local party organization.

"The county Republicans supported the Democratic impostors," he said, saying the challengers previously were registered Democrats. "This is nasty business — it's all about control sometimes."

Fey said "everyone is not always happy with my decisions," but he did what he felt needed to be done to advance the party's interests over the years. "Hopefully someone else will continue the fight," he said.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com or follow her on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog on philly.com/BurlcoBuzz ©

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