BILOXI — The Harrison County Republican Executive Committee is protesting what it calls the state party’s interference in the Biloxi mayor’s race.
Chairman Frank Genzer of Biloxi told The Sun Herald that local Republicans are upset about a letter from state Chairman Joe Nosef that questioned the GOP credentials of Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.
Gilich won a special election Tuesday with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Gilich becomes the city’s first new mayor since 1993. He will serve the final two years of a term started by former Mayor A.J. Holloway, who resigned earlier this year.
Ten candidates ran in the April 28 special election, with Gilich and Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman advancing to the runoff.
Nosef backed Swetman for mayor as did three high-profile Republicans — Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo.
Gilich was endorsed by Holloway and another former mayor, Gerald Blessey.
Gilich had been a Democrat, even serving briefly as local leader, but said he switched to the GOP several years ago.
Genzer said Nosef’s letter included a photograph that he said shows Gilich and former President Bill Clinton at a “Hillary for President” rally.
Genzer said the letter was a surprise.
“I have had a lot of conversations with the Gilich campaign and I committed to them we knew absolutely nothing locally about that and that we were sort of blind-sided like everyone else,” he said. “I got it just like everyone else did.”
In an interview with the newspaper, Bryant defended his endorsement of Swetman.
“Windy is someone that supported me during my campaign as I ran for governor, somebody that I’ve been close to. He’s a real Republican conservative and I thought it was something that I needed to do.
“I hope Mr. Gilich does a really good job. I certainly wish him all the best. But it appeared Windy had been a longtime Republican. Mr. Gilich appeared to have a lot of support from the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party leadership. That did have some influence on my decision,” Bryant said.
Bryant said Swetman had supported his campaign for governor.
“The clear indication was to me that Windy Swetman was someone on my team as a Republican at the time I needed him when I was running for governor, and that’s just something that you don’t forget. I hope people understand that when you’re close to someone, it gives you an opportunity to support them,” the governor said.
Genzer said it’s standard protocol for the state party to contact the local party before taking any action, such as an endorsement. He said the local party didn’t endorse any candidate.
“It infuriated us that they decided which one was the better Republican,” he said. “You don’t do that.”