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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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OC Gets 2 New Council Members, President at Reorganization

New Ocean City Councilman Jody Levchuck speaks at the Ocean City Council reorganization meeting July 1.

By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City has two new City Council members, and the council has a new president after an extraordinary reorganization meeting.
The city has long held its annual reorganization meeting July 1, at the Music Pier – one of the town’s largest venues. Most years, the room is crowded with friends, family, and supporters, but the capacity was limited to 100 under New Jersey’s ongoing state of emergency related to the pandemic. That’s a fraction of the capacity of the hall, which can seat more than 900.
The representatives of the four city wards were sworn in at the meeting. Fourth Ward Councilman Robert Barr was also named the new council president, replacing longtime president Peter Madden. The vote was unanimous and taken without discussion.
In Ocean City, the council president presides over the meetings, but does not have any additional authority than the other members of the six-person governing body. The mayor acts as the chief executive, proposing ordinances and resolutions, but does not have a vote on the council. 
Also at the meeting, new Council members Tomaso Rotondi and Jody Levchuk were sworn in for their terms.
Rotondi will fill the second ward seat, vacated by Antwan McClellan, while boardwalk businessman Levchuck narrowly defeated incumbent Tony Wilson in the third ward in the spring election, done entirely by mail.
At the June 25 council meeting, Wilson’s last, fellow council members lavished him with praise, while Wilson gave an insight into the behind-the-scenes arguments that take place in Ocean City, where public disagreements are rare at the meetings.
Wilson spoke of arguments with Barr and Mayor Jay Gillian, casting them in a humorous light.
At the July 1 meeting, First Ward incumbent Michael DeVlieger ran unopposed, as did Barr. A race looked likely in the second ward, but Rotondi’s expected opponent dropped out at the last minute after realizing he did not meet a residency requirement that candidates live in the town for a full year.
McClellan attended the meeting, as did his fellow Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (both R-1st), Lower Township’s former mayor. Both men resigned their municipal seats after unseating the Democratic team, giving the GOP its first sweep of a legislative team since U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) first ran for state office.
Before that, Republicans had a lock on the district, and the party does again. Soon after the November 2019 election, Van Drew switched parties in a high-profile defection that included a visit with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Van Drew was a political mentor to Barr. Barr said Van Drew wanted to be at the Ocean City meeting but was, instead, meeting with Trump.
“When the president calls, you go,” Barr said.
It was an emotional day, including from Rotondi.
“This is my first time giving a public speech like this, so if I go all John Boehner and start crying like a 5-year-old schoolboy, please don’t hold it against me,” referring to the former speaker of the house, an Ohio Republican, known for emotional displays.
Rotondi, and other speakers, put family and gratitude at the forefront, with faith on display.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God for the blessings and the grace that he gives to my family,” Rotondi said, adding, “I didn’t think I was going to start this early,” as he began to well up.
“I know what a blessing it is to be born in this country. I know what a blessing it is to have a document as great as the Constitution to guide our government and to guide our people,” he said. He spoke of his grandparents, a seamstress and a fisherman, in Italy, during World War II, and their move to the U.S.
Levchuk also spoke of his family, and about the inspiration he draws from his parents, including his father, as well as his mother, his wife, and daughters.
“I still can’t believe that I have been elected to this office, representing the people of Ocean City. It feels fantastic,” he said. “I hope I live up to everybody’s expectations who supported me through all of this.”
Several speakers referred to Barr as an inspiration. Barr was joined on stage by his brother, Zach Barr. Both men have cerebral palsy and rely on wheelchairs.
Barr, too, led with his faith.
“I want to thank God because, without God, none of this would be possible,” he said.
He thanked other members of the council and the mayor. Barr also cited the influence of fellow Councilman Keith Hartzell, describing him as instrumental in his involvement in politics, even while teasing Hartzell for his talkativeness.
“These are very tough times,” Barr said. “What I’m most proud about Ocean City is, in tough times, we all come together.” 
Accepting the new position, Barr got in a few personal messages, thanking his mother, brother, and other family members. First, he talked up his beloved Kansas City Chiefs, and down to another team.
“Four years ago, I sat up here and I said, ‘The Cowboys suck,’ and they still do,” he said.
Simonsen swore in Rotondi, who was joined by his family, while McClellan administered the oath to Barr and DeVleiger.
McClellan made plain his affection for the council members, embracing Barr after completing the oath and calling him brother.
At the long table set on stage at the Music Pier, council members kept their masks in place for the most part, while those in the thin crowd also kept their masks up. In his comments at the event, Gillian said masks are needed for the economy to come back as the numbers of infections skyrocket around the nation, even as New Jersey sees improvement.
“I have been probably one of the worst people. I have not been wearing my mask,” Gillian said. “It is absolutely imperative now that we get on board and we wear our masks and we start to do what we’re supposed to do here in Ocean City.”
Gillian praised the members of the council.
“We have a hell of a… a heck of a team. Excuse me. I’m starting to talk like Bobby (Barr) here. He’s allowed,” Gillian said. “We’re going to get to work.” 
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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