Kimball throws in towel

Last modified: 9/2/2011 12:00:00 AM
Jack Kimball resigned as chairman of the state Republican Party last night, minutes before he would have been voted out by the party's executive committee.

"I'm not sure that this is helping our party, but I am not going to become an obstacle in our party," Kimball said as he announced his resignation amid a plea for unity between Tea Party Republicans and the party's old guard.

After being elected in January as a Tea Party favorite, Kimball had been dogged by reports of poor fundraising and the disappointment of back-to-back losses in State House special elections. The top five elected officials in the state called for his resignation last week as he convened a press conference where he refused to leave and said the executive committee would have to "look me in the eye" when voting him out.

"Don't do it, Jack!" yelled a supporter as Kimball made his announcement last night inside a Holiday Inn conference room in Concord, where onlookers gathered around a long table seating the 36-member executive committee.

"I have come to the conclusion that even if, during a vote, if I were to win - and I know the odds are against that - it would be next to impossible for me to fulfill my obligations as chairman moving forward given what's been against me," Kimball said. After speaking for four minutes from the head of the table, he received a standing ovation from the executive committee and those in attendance.

Kimball's friend Jerry DeLemus had said he unsuccessfully proposed a deal to top Republicans in recent days under which Kimball would resign in exchange for about $200,000 in party donations from national GOP donors. Kimball's supporters said the Republican National Committee had starved the party under Kimball's leadership.

Kimball said he decided to resign last night because "the worst thing that could have happened is to have had this vote." Kimball had said his removal would cause a deep fissure in the party by pitting his Tea Party backers against the establishment Republicans he said pushed for his ouster from the start.

"This party needs to be unified," he said last night. "It can't stand to have what is going on right now."

Several of Kimball's supporters carried "Don't Tread On Me" flags, a calling card of the Tea Party movement. Lisa Gravel, a 41-year-old letter carrier from Manchester, wore a "Jack" pin from Kimball's gubernatorial run last year.

"I'm angry that they tried to slander a good man and that they wreaked havoc on his life," said Gravel, a self-identified Tea Partier. "All he was trying to do was help his country in the best way that he thought possible. There were forces from within that were undermining him the whole time."

Gravel said she felt former governor John Sununu, the previous chairman who had backed a different candidate to replace him, had a hand in Kimball's undoing.

"I think his name is all over this," she said. "It's just disgusting."

Concord developer Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committeeman who sits on the executive committee, had criticized numerous facets of Kimball's eight-month leadership in a lengthy email sent to party leaders this week, expressing concern that he and others had not been given basic information about the party's financial situation. Duprey told reporters last night that Kimball's demise was "certainly not for a lack of effort."

"The job of chairman is incredibly complex and I think Jack was hurt by not having some experience in the party structure," Duprey said. "I have never viewed this as one wing of the party versus the other. This is about the basic, day-to-day management of the party."

Duprey said he had been given no advance notice of Kimball's resignation. Duprey resigned as party chairman in 1995 after his business came under federal investigation.

"I had not heard that (Kimball) was going to resign until we got here tonight and he started to resign," Duprey said. "I respect him for doing so. It's a hard thing to do."

U. S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Reps. Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta, state Senate President Peter Bragdon and House Speaker William O'Brien - all of whom had called for Kimball to be removed - released a statement last night describing his resignation as "an invaluable gift."

"He put the best interests of the NH GOP ahead of all other considerations, and we are grateful for that," the statement read. A statement from the Republican National Committee did not mention Kimball and instead congratulated the party's new chairman, Wayne MacDonald.

MacDonald, the party's vice chairman of nine years, is set to take over until the term ends in January 2013. MacDonald had begun working from home instead of going to the party headquarters about three weeks ago, around the time Kimball fired the party's executive director, Will Wrobleski.

"The atmosphere in there, I was finding at least, not to be conducive to getting things done," MacDonald said. "It's a matter of record that the chairman and I had a couple of disagreements but we remain friends. As I've said repeatedly, I respect him, I think he's a hardworking guy and he really cares about this party, as he showed tonight."

Bill Binnie, a Rye businessman who sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination last year, was named the party's finance chairman in recent months.

"I'm optimistic that in the coming months we'll heal this rift and improve the financial condition of the party," Binnie said.

As for what might heal the rift, Binnie was quick with a one-word answer.

"Time," he said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)




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