Record Turnout Elects Four Newcomers In Fenwick

FENWICK ISLAND – Four newcomers will take the dais after unseating the incumbents in last week’s Fenwick Island Town Council election.

Last Saturday, the Town of Fenwick Island held its municipal election for the offices of town council.

“It was a very large turnout,” said Town Manager Terry Tieman. “Our voter registration was the highest it’s ever been, and absentee ballots were much higher than they have been in the past.”

This year, eight candidates vied for the four council seats up for grabs. Results from Saturday’s election – certified by the Board of Elections on Monday – show the top vote-getters were Natalie Magdeburger with 377 votes, Janice Bortner with 360 votes, Jacque Napolitano with 349 votes and Paul Breger with 340 votes, effectively securing the challengers’ victory over incumbents Richard Mais, 297 votes; Bill Weistling, 294 votes; Mike Houser, 274 votes; and Gene Langan, 252 votes.

“The vote today elected new leadership and we are looking forward to serving Fenwick as new Town Council members,” Magdeburger said. “But, in truth, the vote today was not about the candidates but was really a referendum on what the residents want their Fenwick to be.”

Election winners took time this week to thank their supporters. Magdeburger said the turnout at the polling place represented the community’s desire to maintain the town’s identity as a quiet resort.

“In the pouring rain, with lines that wrapped around the street, the residents cast their vote to protect the Quiet Resort we all love,” she said. “I appreciate and congratulate the years of service that the incumbents provided to Fenwick. I also look forward to working with the residents to embrace the challenges that Fenwick will face to maintain our identity.”

She added, “I hope that we can heal the divide and now move forward with healthy dialogue, community participation, transparent decision making and a focused vision to maintain our unique character and our culture. Today Fenwick was called upon to make a choice about what the future of Fenwick should look like.  Now we know our future is to be who we are and who we’ve always been—a family-friendly quiet resort. I’d like to think that Fenwick smiles on us all for making that choice.”

Bortner said she was thrilled to hear the results of Saturday’s election. She said it demonstrated the hard work each of the challengers put into the campaign.

“However, even more comforting than a successful outcome, is what this election said about the health and vitality of our Democratic process,” she said. “Turnout was unheard of and residents of Fenwick Island made a statement on election day – voters made quite clear that they are paying attention to elected leaders and that they have a clear vision of Fenwick Island’s future. The tide turned in this election when residents became educated about the issues and the actions of the incumbent candidates. Going forward, we intend to facilitate resident participation in and transparency of the Town’s governance.”

Napolitano said she was proud of the campaign that she and fellow challengers had promoted.

“Saturday’s election was a historic event with more than 75% of registered voters in Fenwick Island turning out (in pouring rain) to cast their vote in the landslide victory,” she said. “For most of the day the lines for voting were quite long and I was humbled by the people of Fenwick and their desire to save our town and keep it ‘The Quiet Resort’ that we all know and love.”

She added, “They understood what was at stake and they made their choices clear by their votes. Saturday evening I received a text from a supporter that read, ‘We are in good hands now!’ We are looking forward to serving Fenwick and we know there will be challenges, however we will govern with transparency and open dialogue to heal the divisiveness in our community. We thank all of the voters that came out to vote for us to keep our precious gem of Fenwick Island intact. We welcome our communities input and concerns should they have any.”

Breger and Langan did not return interview requests this week, and Mais and Weistling declined to comment on the results of last week’s election. Houser, however, said he has since submitted his resignation from various town committees.

“I have requested of the Town Manager, Terry Tieman, that she remove my name from all standing Town Committees of which I am a member, including Charter & Ordinance, Infrastructure, Budget, and Environmental,” he said. “I do not wish to be on hand to be dragged into the impending disaster emanating from the Councilpersons-elect in the coming term. They won election on a campaign of ‘no,’ devoid of a legitimate platform or facts. They lack the expertise, experience, energy, and vision to execute and maintain a necessary level of good governance.”

Houser added the town thrived under the leadership of the four incumbent candidates.

“Currently, the Town of Fenwick Island is in better shape fiscally, socially, and organizationally than ever in the past,” he said. “With these individuals at the helm, I am deeply concerned about the well-being of the Town going forward, as well as its standing among the other coastal Delaware municipalities, the County, and the State. Evidence of the woeful shortfall of the Councilpersons-elect is already presented with their shabby performance in their demand to be immediately sworn in this week rather than the scheduled Council meeting on August 27, and without the traditional orientation/transition process. They are not ready for prime time.”

In an interview this week, Tieman said she couldn’t give an exact number, but noted she had received several resignations from various committee members since Saturday’s election results were announced. She also acknowledged there had been discussions regarding the date of the organizational meeting, during which newly elected members would be sworn into office.

“I know in recent history they’ve had special meetings …,” she said. “I also know from some research it has been done at regularly scheduled meetings.”

While no elected person can take office within seven days of the election, Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox opined it is up to the town’s mayor, Gene Langan, to decide the date of the organizational meeting.

The swearing-in ceremony is currently scheduled for Aug. 27, at the next regularly scheduled council meeting. The newly elected councilmembers, however, are calling for an earlier date sometime after the seven-day requirement expires.

“We have called for the organizational meeting (three or more Town Council Members request) to be published and set and hope that this will be done without further delay. We will need to take the oath of office prior to the meeting,” Magdeburger wrote in an email to Schrider-Fox. “We further need to be provided with information regarding town affairs. I understand that some members of Boards and Committees have resigned their position and we need to be receiving updates on that as they occur so we can respond accordingly.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.