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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Nine Candidates Seeking Council Seats in Ocean City Election

Nine Candidates Seeking Council Seats in Ocean City Election

By Vince Conti

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OCEAN CITY – Nine candidates are vying for five open seats on the City Council, with control of the governing body in the balance as voters go to the polls on May 14.

The council is made up of four ward seats and three at-large posts. The two positions that are not open in the nonpartisan election are at-large seats held by council President Pete Madden and by Tony Polcini, whose terms are up in the 2026 election.

None of the nine candidates is part of an official ticket, but five share an endorsement from a new local political organization, Families of Ocean City United in Success (FOCUS).

In the First Ward, Terry Crowley Jr., the current vice president of the council, is running unopposed. He was appointed to his seat when Councilman Mike DeVlieger stepped down to run for mayor. Crowley won in the next election and is completing DeVlieger’s unexpired term.

In the Second Ward, former Councilman Keith Hartzell, who served 16 years on the governing body, is running against newcomer Paul Stryker. Hartzell stepped down from the council to challenge Mayor Jay Gillian in 2022. Gillian retained the mayor’s office with 54% of the vote.

The Third Ward sees Councilman Jody Levchuk being challenged by newcomer Amie Vaules.

The race in the Fourth Ward pits former board of education member Cecilia Gallelli-Keyes against incumbent David Winslow.

In the at-large race, another newcomer, Sean Barnes, is facing off against DeVlieger.

Candidates Night

The race led all nine candidates to the stage at the William and Nancy Hughes Center at Ocean City High School on Monday, April 29.

The forum focused on taxes, development, parking, the threat of renewed wind farm activity, the restrictions passed last year to control rowdy teenagers on the beach and boardwalk and the possibility of a high-rise hotel on the boardwalk.

During the two-hour event, DeVlieger turned up the heat when he accused Gillian of being in the pocket of developers. He went so far as to say that Madden and Polcini, who were not on the stage, and Winslow, who was, are Gillian “pawns.” His comments drew no response from anyone onstage.

On many issues the candidates did not differentiate themselves a great deal.

All agreed that parking is a priority issue, and that the council has the task of maintaining a tax rate that is the lowest it can be without endangering public safety or municipal services.

The candidates were united in their opposition to any revival of the state-driven offshore wind initiative off city beaches. They also supported the beach and boardwalk curfew that was imposed last year to control rowdy crowds of juveniles. All voiced opposition to any high-rise hotel on the boardwalk.

City spending was an area with some give and take. Hartzell said he felt the increase of 3.7 cents in the 2024 local purpose tax rate was unnecessary. DeVlieger accused the council of becoming a “rubber stamp” for the administration. “No one is saying no,” he said.

Five candidates – Crowley, Stryker, Vaules, Winslow and Barnes – have the endorsement of FOCUS, a citizens organization founded in March. The group says it advocates for and supports candidates and elected officials who possess “the leadership, experience and vision to advance policies and solutions that will preserve our rich heritage and traditions, while preparing our community for the future.”

Gallelli-Keyes criticized the new organization, arguing it was formed to give support to a specific group of candidates independent of any survey or other research into public opinion. She said it was important to ensure “that decisions are made in the best interest of many, not just the entitled few.”

She called for an independent committee to “investigate and eliminate all conflicts of interest and nepotism involving city decisions and employment.”

All of the candidates spoke of their love for Ocean City, their ties to the city and their desire to give back to the community.

Those wishing to see the two-hour candidates night video can do so at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxN9krSI4sU&t=83s.

Contact the reporter, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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