Gehrig Dominates City Election, Deluca A Strong Second

Gehrig Dominates City Election, Deluca A Strong Second
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OCEAN CITY- For the second time in as many elections, an independent political newcomer seeking one of four vacant seats on the Ocean City Council was the top vote-getter in the municipal election on Tuesday, surpassing the next closest candidate by over 500 votes.

Two years ago, Councilman Matt James finished in first place in the town’s election, securing his first a seat on the council in his first foray into politics. Lightning struck twice the week when local businessman and self-proclaimed independent thinker topped the four incumbents by a considerable margin after entering the race just two weeks ago just before the filing deadline.

Essentially, going back to the 2012 election, a relative political novice earned the most votes in Ocean City’s municipal election for the third straight time. Councilman Dennis Dare earned the most votes in a highly-contested election. To be fair, however, Dare was hardly a newcomer after serving the city for three-plus decades, first as City Engineer before a long stint as City Manager.

When the dust settled after a frantic election day on Tuesday when most candidates spent several hours working the polls at the Convention Center, Gehrig, who owns and operates Internet marketing and web design firm D3Corp, earned the most votes, garnering 2,026 total tallies in an election when just shy of 2,500 total votes were cast.

Councilman Tony DeLuca finished second with an impressive 1,496 votes and will serve a four-year term. DeLuca, also a political novice the last time around, earned the fourth most votes in 2014 and thus served a two-year term vacated by former Councilman Joe Mitrecic, who was elected to the Worcester County Commissioners that same year.

Dare finished third with 1,355 votes and was returned to the council for a second straight term. Councilmember Mary Knight finished in fourth with 1,310 votes and retained the seat she first won back in 2006. The fifth candidate for the four vacant seats, incumbent Doug Cymek, earned a healthy 1,175 votes, but was left on the outside looking in as the fifth horse in a four-horse race.

Mayor Rick Meehan, who ran unopposed on Monday and retained his position, received a total of 1,894 votes. Meehan has served as mayor since 2006 after serving on the City Council for 21 years. He assumed the mayor’s seat when former Mayor Jim Mathias was appointed to serve out the remainder of the late Delegate Bennett Bozman’s term in Annapolis. Meehan was elected mayor in October of that same year and has held the position since.

The voting was robust in the municipal election in Ocean City, mirroring the impressive turnout in the simultaneous national election and perhaps because of it. A total of 2,485 votes were cast in the municipal election on Tuesday, including 2,380 at the polls and another 105 approved absentee ballots. With roughly 6,000 registered voters in Ocean City, the 2,485 ballots cast in the municipal election represented a voter turnout of roughly 41 percent.

In the past, Ocean City has held its municipal election every two years independent of the national elections and the turnout numbers have varied. In the interest of easing the process for the resort’s voters, and to piggyback somewhat on the momentum of the larger statewide and national elections, the municipal election was held on the same day and in the same building on Tuesday.

Anectdotally, there was apparently some confusion with the voting process on Tuesday in Ocean City when the municipal election was held in a different room in the Convention Center from the national election. In addition, Meehan said during Monday’s meeting many local residents who voted early in the national election were erroneously told they would not be allowed to vote in the local election at the Convention Center on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, despite the few communication breakdowns and the apparent confusion over the different polling places, a highly anticipated national election coupled with near perfect weather conspired to create one of the largest turnouts for a municipal election in recent memory. For Gehrig, the big turnout could not have come at a better time.

“I was a little overwhelmed last night honestly,” he said. “The whole campaign process was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I felt like there was a bond with the voters I met along the way going door to door and at the polls.”

While Gehrig is a successful businessman and currently serves as Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce president, Tuesday’s victory represents his first election to municipal office. While he expects a learning curve somewhat, he said this week he feels he is versed enough in the issues to jump right in.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that hard,” he said. “I think I just have to listen to people. I think they want their elected officials to do what they say we’re going to do.”

The four incumbents all filed for re-election on the same day last January in the interest of solidarity and continuity and they campaigned together somewhat. When he filed just before the deadline last month, Gehrig was quickly branded as an outsider, but he said this week he anticipated a seamless transition for the elected body.

“I’ve already worked with the Mayor and Council in different capacities with the Chamber and the different boards and commissions I’ve served on,” he said. “I think we’ll all work well together. I’m anxious to work with the veteran councilmembers and sit back and listen when it’s appropriate, but at the same time, I’m not going to shy away from what the residents want.”

DeLuca earned the second most votes on Tuesday by a considerable margin despite being considered by many as potentially vulnerable in the five-candidate race. DeLuca said on Wednesday he was delighted to come back and serve a full four-year term.

“I would like to thank the Ocean City residents,” he said. “To me, it’s very humbling and I really feel fortunate to have this opportunity to continue to serve this great town.”

DeLuca also said he expected a seamless transition with Gehrig joining the council along with the other incumbents and the councilmembers whose seats were not up for election in this cycle including Council President Lloyd Martin and Councilmen Wayne Hartman and Matt James.

“I really think it can be even stronger and better,” he said. “I feel great about it going forward. I have only been up there for two years and I really, really wanted to continue to serve. I think I knocked on 2,300 doors. I worked harder this time than the last time around.”

Knight is the ranking veteran among the incumbents re-elected on Tuesday, having served since 2006. She said on Wednesday she was obviously pleased with the results and was ready to push on with many of the initiatives already underway.

“I’m very happy with the outcome and I’m glad I get to serve another four years,” she said. “We have a lot of great things that we’ve started and I’m happy that we’re going to see them through. I think we have a lot of momentum and I don’t have any reason to believe that’s not going to continue.”

With six of the seven councilmembers returning, along with the somewhat politically green Gehrig, Knight said it should be business as usual for the most part now that the election is in the rearview mirror.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We have a lot of continuity with the council we have and the mayor and once we get through the formalities of swearing in and all of that, we’re going to be ready to hit the ground running.”

With his 30 years-plus in public service in the resort, Dare’s seat on the council appeared to be safe heading into Tuesday’s election and it played out that way with a solid third-place finish among the five candidates. Nonetheless, nothing was a foregone conclusion and Dare was thankful for the outcome.

“I’m very appreciative of the voters’ confidence in me and look forward to doing my very best for them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cymek found himself on the outside looking in after Tuesday’s election. Cymek finished fifth among the five candidates vying for four vacant council seats with 1,175 votes. His departure creates a void on the council as a quiet voice of reason. It also creates a void in the various subcommittees on which he served.

Cymek had a strong background in law enforcement and served as the chairman of the resort’s Police Commission and as such acted as a liaison between the Ocean City Police Department and the Mayor and Council on many public safety-related issues. He also served on the Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe Housing, or PRESS, Committee, which, as the name implies, addresses property issues including overcrowding, building code violations and fire and life safety infractions, for example, and his vast experience as a general contractor and in construction management served him well in that capacity. He was first elected to the council in 2008 and served two terms before bowing out in Tuesday’s municipal election as the fifth highest vote-getter.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.