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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Ex-Mayor Finds No Room at the Table in Cape May

Former Cape May Mayor Chuck Lear at a Coast Guard function.

By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY – Ex-Cape May City Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear lost his bid to regain a seat on the city’s governing body. Lear was elected mayor in 2016 in a crushing victory over long-serving Edward Mahaney at a time when the politics in the city had been animated by struggles over the management of the municipal police department. 
Lear, who had served as a member of the police department for over thirty years and was a Lieutenant in 2015, was essentially forced out as part of a settlement over use-of-time allegations brought by the Mahaney administration. Mahaney and the city council also removed Rob Sheehan as Chief of Police on the last day of his probationary period. The shakeup led to an ongoing controversy with litigation against the city. Sheehan was eventually awarded an $800,000 judgment. 
Lear ran against Mahaney for mayor in 2016 and won the seat with 64% of the vote. A first term marred by controversy over redevelopment, the proposed construction of a public safety building, and tensions over the correct balance between development and preservation in the historic landmark city led to a contest in 2020 when then-councilman Zack Mullock unseated Lear with Mullock getting almost 61% of the vote.
Lear’s attempt at a comeback in 2022 failed. He finished a distant fourth in a contest that had three full-term council seats up for grabs.
The winners in the election were incumbents Shaine Meier and Lorraine Baldwin, along with newcomer Maureen McDade. McDade won the open seat vacated when current Deputy Mayor Stacy Sheehan declined to stand for reelection. McDade will come to the governing body from a current role as an Alternative I on the city’s Zoning Board. 
A fifth candidate for the three open full-term seats was Mark DiSanto. DiSanto finished last in the voting with 10% of the total. DiSanto has long pushed a concept for a marina district in Cape May. He ran unsuccessfully for council in 2018 and 2020 as well. 
A close confidant of Lear during his term as mayor was Patricia Henricks who served as Deputy Mayor for most of that term. Hendricks also attempted a comeback in 2022, seeking a contest with incumbent Michael Yeager for the unexpired term of Chris Bezaire who resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to two offenses related to the stalking of an ex-girlfriend. 
Hendricks received less than a third of the overall vote for the seat with Yeager winning with 69% of the vote. Yeager had been appointed to the seat by the council when Bezaire stepped down and was obligated to earn the seat from the voters at the next general election. Yeager will now serve out Bezaire’s term through December 31, 2024. 
The vote was a strong showing for the incumbents who, along with Mayor Zack Mullock and newcomer Maureen McDade, will most likely see the result as an endorsement for the direction the council is already taking.
Thoughts? Questions? Email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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