BY TOM HESTER SR.
In a surprise development Wednesday night, Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) announced he was immediately stepping down as Republican state chairman.
Gov. Chris Christie then immediately named Saddle River Mayor Samuel S. Raia to replace Webber, an action that must be approved by the Republican State Committee.
Webber said he wants to focus on his role as chairman of the Republicans' redistricting efforts and in his role on the Assembly Budget Committee. Webber and the other 79 members of the Assembly also face re-election in November.
"Although I enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to lead our party during such an important time in our state's history, the reality is that only about five months remain in the only term I planned on serving," Webber said.
"I am grateful to Governor Christie and the members of the Republican State Committee for entrusting me with the responsibility of leading the Republican Party," Webber said.
Webber was selected by Christie during the 2009 gubernatorial campaign to oversee the party. He is a social conservative and an outspoken opponent of abortion.
Raia said, "I am humbled to have been asked by the governor to continue this important work. As we head into the 2011 election cycle, I am committed to championing our Republican principles and building on the successes of the past two years.
"I look forward to working with Governor Christie, county chairmen, the State Committee men and women and most importantly our local leaders and grassroots volunteers, to further strengthen the Republican Party and take back the Legislature this year."
Besides his role as Saddle River mayor, Raia is a business owner with over 30 years in the real estate and construction industries. Raia studied accounting at Seton Hall University and later earned an MBA in management at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Raia volunteers his time to numerous organizations, including serving on the board of directors of both Hackensack University Medical Center and the New Jersey Commerce and Industry Association. He has been married to his wife, Tina Mary, for 41 years, has four children and eleven grandchildren.
"I would like to thank Jay Webber for his dedicated service to our party," Christie said. "Under Jay's leadership, New Jersey Republicans made historic strides over the last two elections, beginning with my election last year, and culminating in overwhelming successes this past November up and down the state at all levels of government."
The governor added, I'd also like to thank Mayor Sam Raia for his willingness to lead our party as our next state chairman. Sam is a true leader who will continue to organize and broaden our party at the grassroots level to build upon Chairman Webber's November successes. I look forward to working hand in hand with Sam to continue to build, widen and develop our Party."
Until Raia assumes his new position, Republican Party Vice-chairwoman Lynda Pagliughi will serve as the interim leader.