OCEAN CITY — In one of the tightest Ocean City municipal elections ever, incumbents Lloyd Martin and Matt James were returned to the City Council this along with newcomer Mark Paddack.
As the votes from each of the town’s seven election machines were announced on Tuesday, it became clear James was going to be one of three elected to the council. However, the tension built as none of the other four candidates clearly emerged as winners for the other two seats.
When the dust settled and the final votes were tallied, James had collected the highest number, 1,787, Paddack was second with 1,1187, Martin was third with 1,183 and Emily Nock was a close fourth at 1,179. Just four votes separated Paddack from Martin and only four more separated Martin from Nock. Chris Rudolf finished in fifth with 848 votes.
Incumbent Mayor Rick Meehan cruised to another term, more than doubling the final vote count for challenger Joe Hall. In the end, Meehan finished with 1,695, while Hall finished with 773. With a solid field of candidates from top to bottom, voter turnout numbers were strong in Tuesday’s municipal election. A total of 2,566 votes were cast from the 5,808 eligible active voters on the town’s rolls, representing a turnout of around 44 percent.
For his part, Meehan this week was pleased to survive the challenge from Hall and return to the seat he has held since 2006. With the election now in the books, Meehan said he was ready to get back to the business of running the town with an effective council left largely intact.
“I am honored to continue to serve as mayor of Ocean City,” he said. “It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Ocean City is an amazing town. It’s a safe, clean community that has incredible residents, businesses and visitors, but we do face some challenges. I am humbled to be the one to continue to face these challenges and promise I will work hard every day on behalf of the community and our future.”
Martin was first elected to the council in 2002 and has served for 16 years including the last six as council president. When the polls closed and votes were tallied on Tuesday, he returned to the council, finishing just four votes behind Paddack and four ahead of Nock.
“I’ve never seen it so close,” he said this week. “No matter who got elected, we’re going to continue to work together and keep the town going in a positive direction. Any one of the newcomers would have been a great addition and brought some different viewpoints.”
Martin said with the tight election in the books, he was ready to continue to move Ocean City moving forward.
“My whole thing was to keep the town going in the right direction,” he said. “We’re fiscally responsible, our committees are working well together and we’re heading in the right direction.”
It was no surprise James was returned to the council following Tuesday’s election, but the ease with which he cruised past the other four challengers raised eyebrows somewhat. However, it came as no surprise for James, who was the youngest ever elected to the council four years ago and has become a steady, confident councilman with each passing year.
“I think that shows I have broad support from the residents,” he said. “They’ve seen the work I’ve put in. Obviously, I’m significantly younger than the rest of the council. There’s a learning curve those first two years where you kind of listen and observe and take it all in, but in the last two years I’ve been more confident and more vocal.”
James said he was not surprised by his impressive showing, but said it was a little different the second time around.
“Absolutely, I think the numbers are great,” he said. “When you are a new candidate like I was the last time around, there is a bump in votes because you’re a new face and a new flavor, but the second time around, the numbers speak more of your merits and the work you’ve put in. I think this shows the voters are confident in what I’ve done.”
James said he was surprised by just how close the numbers were for the other three candidates and pointed out it can, and did in this case, likely come down to just a few more hands shaken or a couple more households visited.
“I think it shows one more street can make a difference,” he said. “Over the last few weeks, I’ve knocked on a lot of doors. Some days, it’s cold and drizzly and windy and you have another street or two on your list and you just push through. People like the fact you’re making an effort to meet them face to face. I think that showed in the voting.”
The quietly confident James said he plans to stay the course for the most part, but as a second-term councilmember he will be ready to advance some new directions.
“I have a handful of initiatives I really want to advance and hit hard,” he said. “The homeless issue is one of them. During the course of knocking on doors, I met a lady who heads the tri-county homeless alliance and she had some good ideas. I’d like to bring her in before the full council. So, there’s the homeless issue, the special events, pushing State Highway Administration to dualize Route 90- you name it, we’re going to tackle it.”
For his part, Paddack was happy to survive the eight-vote difference between the second- and fourth- vote-getters, but remained confident in the attributes he is bringing to the council after nearly three decades with the police department and an almost equal amount of time involved in civic organizations.
“I don’t ever recall seeing three candidates within eight votes of each other, but that’s how close it was,” he said. “I’m bringing a lot to the table, and I’m going to continue to work to keep Ocean City moving forward. I’m very happy with the outcome. My family is this town now.”
Paddack said he doesn’t anticipate too much of a learning curve as he joins the elected body.
“I campaigned on being uniquely qualified to serve on the council with my decades of public service and my history of civic involvement,” he said. “I’m very in tune with the issues and the challenges and with my experience, I’m going to hit the ground running. There really won’t be a learning curve until I hit budget time and the nuances involved in that.”