OC Council Retains Same Leadership, Despite New Councilman’s Concerns

OC Council Retains Same Leadership, Despite New Councilman’s Concerns
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OCEAN CITY — Ocean City Council newcomer and top election vote-getter John Gehrig asserted his independence and began rattling cages Thursday night after being sworn in during a special ceremony.

As has been the tradition for years, the Mayor and Council members elected on Tuesday were officially sworn in on Thursday at City Hall in what is typically a feel-good event for the newly minted councilmembers.

Once the formality of the swearing in of those elected on Tuesday was dispensed with, the first order of business was electing the council president and council secretary.

Gehrig led all council candidates in Tuesday’s election with more than 2,000 tallies, while DeLuca finished second, Dare third and Knight fourth. Despite a good showing, Cymek finished fifth and was replaced on the council by Gehrig. When it came time to elect the council’s leadership positions on Thursday, DeLuca made a motion to return Martin as council president.

“I think it’s really, really important that we continue with our strong resolve,” he said. “The last two years, and I can only speak for the last two, have been very strong and for that reason, I nominate Lloyd Martin for resident of the City Council.”

While he did not disagree with returning Martin to the council presidency, Gehrig did believe the vote totals on Tuesday suggested the city’s electorate was clamoring for change.

“I support Lloyd as president, but I just want to be clear that we saw the will of the voters and at some point we’re going to need to respect that, respect their mandate for the last two elections,” he said.  “I do believe they spoke loud and clear in this election, certainly in the last election, and I just want to make that point right now.”

Ocean City Councilman Tony DeLuca is sworn in. Photo by Shawn Soper

Ocean City Councilman Tony DeLuca is sworn in. Photo by Shawn Soper

DeLuca’s motion to nominate Martin as council president was called and it passed by a 7-0 vote with Gehrig included as well as Mayor Rick Meehan, who gets a vote in that matter. However, when DeLuca nominated Knight as council secretary, Gehrig resumed his objection to the process. Gehrig suggested the voters had given a clear mandate for change and voting in the same councilmembers to the same leadership positions did not represent their will.

“At some point, we need to remove the names from the positions and we need to remember why we’re here and the voters said,” he said. “I’m just curious why we’re nominating the same leadership that we had when the voters clearly made a statement not to do that.”

DeLuca took exception to the notion the vote totals on Tuesday somehow suggested the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the council leaders.

“I don’t agree with what you just said,” he said. “The voters put in the people that are up here, and just because I got 100 more votes than someone else is not a clear reason for why you need to do something or not do something. You do something based on the results.”

However, Gehrig said returning Martin as president and Knight as secretary flew in the face of the perceived mandate from the voters on Tuesday.

“I just think the will of the voters is not being done,” he said. “The top four vote-getters in the last two elections will not be represented in leadership positions on this City Council. If we respect them, then that’s irresponsible.”

DeLuca discounted that notion, however. He also dismissed the notion that calls were made to arrange the leadership positions earlier in the day on Thursday.

“I don’t believe that to be true,” Gehrig said. “There were phone calls made all day today for this very outcome. It should have been discussed amongst us.”

Gehrig continued to hammer home his belief that simply going back to the same leadership as prior to the election was irresponsible.

“This whole process is politics and why I’m sitting here, this exact thing,” he said. “It’s the exact thing they didn’t want us to do and we’re doing it again. I’m talking about 2,500 people on Tuesday, two days ago, and we’re right back to it. Are we blind? The saying goes, the blind leads the blind right into the ditch? This is it. We’re living it right now.”

Being sworn into his second term is Councilman Dennis Dare, surrounded by his family.

Being sworn into his second term is Councilman Dennis Dare, surrounded by his family.

Dare tried to explain the difference between the leadership vote from the vote of the general public on Tuesday.

“Let me help you understand it better,” he said. “The top vote-getters have the privilege of sitting up here and then we have the privilege of selecting our leaders. Just because you’re the most popular doesn’t make you the best leader.”

Dare then randomly went on to condemn an election day flier campaign carried out by known council rabble-rouser Tony Christ and his cronies aimed at disparaging the incumbents.

“The vote total on Tuesday I take exception to,” he said. “Tony Christ’s lying, deceitful tactics and handing out this deceitful piece of garbage to everybody effected the outcome of the election. That mean, deceitful act was carried out by Tony and some of the people sitting in here as well. I sure hope anybody sitting up here wasn’t part of that. That’s politics.”

However, Gehrig denounced Dare’s suggestion that the flier campaign alone was responsible for the outcome.

“That is demeaning to 2,500 people that came out in force,” he said. “Tony stands for whatever he believes in and I don’t know the man, but for you to say everyone voted a certain way because of one man handing out a flier is demeaning to the voters. If we take the election results and completely discard them, who do you think we represent?”

Gehrig was quick to point out he was not seeking a leadership position as a freshman councilmember.

“By the way, I’m not lobbying for myself at all,” he said. “I’m not qualified to be president and I’m not qualified to be secretary. I’m just grateful to be up here at all, but what was the message that resonated with the voters? It wasn’t about fliers. It was about the very thing we’re doing right now. It’s about pride and ego. The voters spoke loud and clear and we’re disregarding it on the very first vote.”

Resigned to the fact the rest of the council had likely made up their mind on the council secretary vote, he made a last ditch effort to install a different councilmember as secretary.

“You guys have the votes you need, so let’s get on with the show,” he said. “But I nominate Matt James for secretary. I won’t be sucked in. I’m not a politician and I will say a lot of wrong things and I apologize, but I’m a free shooter.”

Ocean City Councilwoman Mary Knight and family and supporters. Photo by Shawn Soper

Ocean City Councilwoman Mary Knight with family and supporters. Photo by Shawn Soper

The motion to nominate James for secretary died for lack of a second, and the council ultimately voted 6-1 to install Knight as council secretary with Gehrig opposed.

Council President Lloyd Martin attempted a conciliatory message after what had become a heated first meeting for the new council.

“I do disagree with John,” he said. “I was the highest vote-getter in two elections in a row and I didn’t push for a leadership seat. I figure when you get elected here, you’re the same as everybody else up here. You have one vote. You have a voice just like everybody else does.”

Martin said he hoped the fractious first meeting wasn’t a sign of things to come for the new council make-up.

“There is nothing wrong with having a strong opinion,” he said. “But when you make that vote and walk out that door, you shouldn’t be hateful when you leave. You do what you think is right and you move on.”

Martin harkened back to a darker time when a clearly divided council derailed the city’s operation and urged his colleagues to continue to work together toward the common goals.

“We want to move this town forward, because it was moving backward a few years ago and we don’t want that anymore,” he said. “We want to work together as a team and I’m going to lead that team for the next two years.”

For his part, Meehan also portrayed a conciliatory message.

“It’s one of those times I wish there had been five seats, because I think all of those that ran deserve a seat on this council,” he said. “An election is about choosing your leaders and in this election, they chose four leaders that joined those already sitting up here. Out of those leaders, there are seven voters and the majority rules out of those seven.”

Meehan disregarded the notion that the four incumbents, including the three elected on Tuesday, campaigning and running together was a bad thing.


Accepting his oath of office for a new two-year term is Mayor Rick Meehan, joined by family members.

“There’s been a lot of talk about how you work together as a team and how that’s not good,” he said. “Teamwork and working together doesn’t mean you always have to agree. What it means is you do what you’re elected to do cordially and respectfully the way the citizens want you to do. We iron out disagreements, come to compromises and come to the best decision possible, which might not always be unanimous, but what the majority believes to be the best decision.”

Meehan closed out the meeting with a message of hope going forward.

“I’m an eternal optimist and my glass is always half-full,” he said. “I’ve been up here and seen change before and it almost always becomes positive. That’s what I see happening here.”

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.