OCEAN CITY – The third time was the charm for Doug Cymek, as he finally won a seat on the Ocean City Council, joining two incumbents and one former councilman in the lowest voter turnout percentage in recent Ocean City history.
Only 23.5 percent of a possible 6,470 registered voters cast a vote in this year’s election, eclipsing the previous record of 24 percent from the 2006 election.
The only numbers concerning Cymek and the other winners as the results were announced Tuesday evening at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, however, was their number of votes.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed right now”, said Cymek, just moments after the votes were tabulated. “I need a minute to gather my thoughts and let this sink in.”
Cymek, who lost his election bids in both 1996 and 2006, came in third in the voting for a possible four available seats behind incumbents Jim Hall and Mary Knight. Cymek received 844 votes, just 14 less than Knight, who felt vindicated after not being endorsed by the local press.
“I was very disappointed that I was not endorsed by the papers, but in the end, I was endorsed by the people, and that is all that really matters. I am honored to serve them once again,” she said.
Former councilman and Hall’s Restaurant owner, Joe Hall, was returned to City Hall by the people of Ocean City, gaining 828 votes to take the fourth and final available council position. Hall lost by 74 votes in the 2006 election losing his seat on the council, which he held from 2000-06. Hall edged out fifth place winner Brent Ashley to win back a seat on the council by just 52 votes.
“It was a nailbiter, but in the end, I reached my goal, and that was a seat on this council. I couldn’t be happier than I am right now, said Hall.
Mayor Rick Meehan, though unopposed and essentially re-elected before a single vote was cast, earned 958 votes to his credit.
Jim Hall, who has served on the City Council since 1987, was elated in the moments after his victory, but he did speak of the uncertainty of the whole process.
“You never really know how this is going to go. It could have gone either way, as the numbers were pretty close for everyone,” he said. “I think everyone ran a great campaign and I’m extremely pleased with the results.”
One of the biggest surprises of the evening was the poor finish by incumbent and retired police officer Jay Hancock, who finished second to last in the voting with 598 votes.
Hancock said he was “cautiously optimistic” going into election and “(I) knew there might be a question, but I’d hoped that my experience would be the answer to the question. Obviously, I’m disappointed.”
Hancock’s fate may have been sealed by what many call a long-standing row between he and Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino that allegedly came to a boiling point in early October when it was reported that a threat of a sexual discrimination lawsuit had been settled for approximately $5,000 between the city and DiPino, stemming at least partially from personal insults Hancock reportedly hurled at the chief. The following week, the Fraternal Order of Police did not endorse Hancock’s bid for re-election, which seemed to indicate the row between he and DiPino had spread to one between the retired 31-year police veteran and the FOP.
FOP President Glen McIntyre told The Dispatch that there was a “deep rooted philosophical issue amongst the rank and file members and how Jay views and sees the department. Some of the comments he’s made in the papers over the years have rubbed our young guys the wrong way.”
Hancock hoped that even if the recent media reports sealed his fate at the polls, it wouldn’t tarnish his legacy in the city of Ocean City adding, “I think it might stick in some people’s minds, but those people probably weren’t that familiar with my work for the town over the years.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic, who has served four years with Hancock, said he was sorry to see him leaving the council under the circumstances he did.
“It’s unfortunate that Jay lost his seat. There was way too much out there for him to overcome. We will miss him because he was a good council member,” Mitrecic said. “He was sandbagged and it was a travesty what was done to him.”
Rounding out the candidates was first-timer Sean Rox, who was the youngest of the candidates at age 35.
Rox, who picked up a respectable 355 votes, was already looking at future elections moments after the results were announced, saying, “I’d definitely run again, and this was a valuable learning experience. I learned a lot, and we’ll see what happens next time.”
After two straight record turnouts at the voter polls, one a record high in 2004 with over 13,000 votes cast, and a record low in 2006 with just over 5,000 votes cast, Tuesday’s election was just higher with 5,176 total votes cast by 1,521 people, up from the 1,484 voters in 2006.
Many people who spent the day at the polls predicted by the early afternoon that it was going to be a low turnout.
Councilman Jim Hall said, “we really didn’t get a good turnout today, although we did get a good result, but I am a little surprised about the number of people.”
Some, like Hall, speculated that having an unopposed mayoral election in addition to a ballot with no issues for the public to vote on could be a reason that almost 77 percent of registered Ocean City voters decided to stay home. The low voter turnout was partly blamed in 2006 by gusty winds and rain, but that was certainly not the case as Tuesday as weather conditions were beautiful.
As for the new council, some ran on making some immediate changes in their first few months on the council.
Joe Hall said during his campaign process, “my first motion in our first official meeting will be to suspend all major capital improvement projects for six months.”
Hancock warned new council members to be aware that there were “very real concerns” about the future Ocean City budget and hoped that major cuts were not made to the funding on city infrastructure despite the economy.
“I hope the new council realizes that radical changes don’t necessarily mean good changes. Altering our city infrastructure would cost us more money in the long run,” he said. “Getting nothing done is much more costly than spending money on the things we need to get done.”
Knight seemed to agree that some of the biggest hurdles for the new council to clear were going to be the new budget as well as “how we plan to fund advertising the town of Ocean City to the masses.”
After spending the day at the polls, Mitrecic called Tuesday’s election a “great day for Ocean City” and though happy with the idea of working with two newcomers to the council, was particularly pleased with Knight’s re-election.
“Overall, I think Ocean City won yesterday. We were very, very fortunate that Mary got re-elected. I think we know where Joe Hall’s heart is and it’s with the town, and I think Doug will be a great addition to the team. I am looking forward to working with Doug and with all the candidates that won,” said Mitrecic, who was elected to the council in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.