GOP feud erupts in Manalapan; 2 slates file for committee

By Alesha Williams Boyd • FREEHOLD BUREAU

With the primary election for Township Committee nominations less than two months away, a rift has formed among local Republicans in spite of both sides’ insistence they want to stop the intraparty fighting.

Kalman “Butch” Budai and Steven Johnson filed to run on the “Manalapan Republicans” line against the Manalapan Republican Municipal Committee’s picks, Board of Education member Ryan Green and William Garcia, a two-year resident who works in finance.

GOP Municipal Committee Chairman Stephen McEnery said Budai and Johnson caught a case of sour grapes after they failed to garner enough support to win the party’s nominations.

But Budai and Johnson said they opted to run without the party’s nod after, they believe, McEnery manipulated the selection process.

Some GOP committee members had questioned McEnery’s decision to fill several open committee seats at a meeting held just before the upcoming vote for candidates. Others balked at his decision to hold the vote on the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when some members could not be present.

“Hardworking Republicans have been pushed aside for unknown “promising’ candidates,” Johnson said, adding that Green and Garcia just registered as Republicans this year. “Now, the Republicans in Manalapan will have a choice.”

McEnery said some residents who were interested in serving on the committee weren’t considered because the seats already had been filled. And, claiming the renegade Republicans haven’t worked well with others on volunteer committees and boards in the township, the chairman said committee members had valid reasons not to select Budai and Johnson.

“The Republican Party in Manalapan is made up of individuals that want to work toward making Manalapan a better place for their families,” McEnery said. “Whenever a splinter group forms, chaos develops and family focus disappears. When two parties debate an issue it’s about beliefs. When a party splits it’s not about beliefs, it’s about ego.”

But Budai, a longtime township volunteer, said McEnery has been the negative force in the local party, releasing personal information about public officials in his own party and acting in his official capacity without consulting the committee, among other issues.

Budai and Johnson, a Zoning Board of Adjustment member, also have organized 40 residents to run on their line for the 48 local Republican County Committee seats, they said. The township reported unofficially that 76 people are running in 24 districts for the seats.

“Many of us decided to join together to work to return Manalapan to the kind of community we all enjoyed before the party bosses created the negativity that saddens us all,” Budai said.

Budai is president of the local Republican Club, a social support organization for the party, and is a member of the summer recreation committee and the transportation board.

Budai and Johnson said their campaign will focus on issues including taxes, improving recreation facility safety and “establishing a positive, inviting atmosphere” in local government.

Green said he and Garcia will focus on municipal spending, shared services, recreation reform and the future of the Village at Manalapan, the now-stalled, 500,000-square-foot retail center proposed at Route 33 and Millhurst Road.

Green, also a member of the zoning board and the Mayor’s Council on Special Needs, said he believes he and Garcia have the best chance of winning the November general election.

Green said he had not registered as a Republican sooner because he did not want to bring politics into his role as a school board member; Garcia said he was registered as unaffiliated in error upon moving to New Jersey.

“It’s a free country if they want to run,” Green said. “I think I’m a better candidate, and Garcia is a solid candidate . . . and I’m looking forward to a healthy debate.”

Incumbent Michelle Roth and Planning Board Chairman Donald Holland are running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

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