Does John P. Kelly want to be the next Ocean County sheriff?
It's a question Kelly, who just took over as freeholder director, won't answer.
"I am committed to doing the best job possible as freeholder director," Kelly said in front of county employees and others as the Ocean County Board of Freeholders prepared to go into closed session Wednesday at the biweekly preboard meeting, in response to a question.
But it's common knowledge among party insiders that Kelly has wanted to be sheriff long before longtime Sheriff William L. Polhemus died in December.
Kelly - who has no law enforcement background - was already interested in the position when former Undersheriff Wayne L. Rupert died suddenly in October 2011.
Polhemus appointed William T. Sommeling, who had previously served as undersheriff for many years.
Polhemus, 84, decided to run for another term back in the spring of 2012, despite concerns voiced by some that he was no longer up to the tasks involved.
Patch asked Kelly in December 2011 if he planned to oppose Polhemus in the 2012 primary.
Kelly said then that he had been interested in the sheriff's position for years, but only if and when Polhemus decided to step down.
"As far as I know, Bill Polhemus is going to be our next candidate," Kelly said then. "I'm not seeking to unseat the incumbent sheriff."
Gov. Chris Christie will appoint Polhemus' replacement, who will then have to run in November if he or she wishes to continue.
The governor is open to suggestions for Polhemus' replacement, but the person must be a Republican, said Sean Conner, a spokesman for Christie's office.
"Gov. Christie has not made a decision on a replacement at this point," Conner said recently. "When that determination is made by the governor, it will be made known publicly in the normal course of such announcements."
The name at the top of the possible replacement list is longtime Toms River Police Chief Michael G. Mastronardy, some in town say. Mastronardy has been chief since 1992.
Sommeling, 77, who also is rumored to be a candidate, was praised by Kelly in his speech at the freeholders' reorganization meeting.
"The press has called me several times asking when the governor will name a replacement," Kelly said on Jan. 2. "I don't know when the governor is going to do it."
"But with Bill Sommeling running the department, it does not lack leadership," Kelly said at the time. "And we appreciate everything you’re doing."
Do you think Kelly should be appointed sheriff? Take our poll below