By Donald Wittkowski
Adding some drama to Ocean City’s municipal election, a former councilman has taken out nominating petitions in a first step toward possibly challenging Mayor Jay Gillian.
John Flood served on Council from 1988 to 1996 and briefly returned to the governing body in 2011 when he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former Councilwoman Susan Sheppard after she won a seat on the Cape May County Board of Freeholders. Sheppard now serves as a Superior Court judge.
In an interview Wednesday, Flood confirmed he picked up nominating petitions on Monday for the mayor’s race. He stressed that he first wants to gauge the level of community support for his candidacy before making a decision whether to run in the May 8 election.
March 5 is the deadline for submitting petitions, which must be signed by a minimum of 1 percent of the city’s registered voters for candidates to have their names placed on the ballot.
Flood said if he decides to challenge Gillian, he would wait until March 5 to outline his campaign platform and priorities.
“I’m a little disenchanted with the things I’ve seen,” Flood said of city politics. “I’m not real pleased.”
A race pitting Flood against Gillian would feature two experienced politicians whose families are deeply rooted in Ocean City’s business community.
In addition to the mayoral race, the election will include three at-large Council seats. Incumbents Karen Bergman, Keith Hartzell and Peter Madden are all seeking re-election to those seats. No other Council candidates have announced yet.
The 53-year-old Gillian, who announced in December that he is running for re-election, is seeking his third, four-year term. He easily won election in 2010 and 2014.
Gillian followed his father, former Ocean City Mayor Roy Gillian, into politics. He is the owner of his family’s Boardwalk amusement business, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, which was started by his grandfather, David, in 1929.
As mayor, Gillian has steered the resort town through an unprecedented level of capital improvements, including the reconstruction of the tourist-friendly Boardwalk, a series of drainage projects to reduce coastal flooding and the dredging of the shallow back bays.
Gillian said in December that he is seeking re-election because there is simply a lot more he wants to accomplish. His top priorities this year include dredging and drainage projects, completing the Boardwalk’s overhaul from 10th to 12th streets and finally settling on a plan for renovating or replacing the antiquated public safety building.
Flood, 65, is a lifelong Ocean City resident. His grandparents came to the resort about 100 years ago. His grandfather, Emil Palmer, founded the local Chevrolet dealership in 1933. The dealership was later sold to another owner.
As a businessman, Flood indicated that he would focus on ways to revitalize Ocean City’s year-round economy
“How do we get more people to come to Ocean City and spend their money in Ocean City?” he asked.
Flood owns land concentrated around 16th Street and Haven Avenue. The CVS store on 16th Street, a car wash and medical offices are among his commercial tenants.
Hoping to redevelop parts of the Haven Avenue corridor for new housing, Flood has filed litigation against the city seeking a court ruling that would clear the way for him to build two projects featuring a total of 20 “coastal cottages.”
In 2016, Council approved a zoning ordinance that eliminated coastal cottages from a redevelopment area where they were supposed to be clustered in the center of town along Haven Avenue between Sixth and 14th streets.
The coastal cottage concept was originally approved by Council in 2013 as a way to create, smaller affordable homes that would attract more year-round residents, particularly younger families, to Ocean City.
In voting to revoke the cottages, Council members cited complaints they had heard from neighbors about flooding, overcrowding, parking and construction problems stemming from an existing coastal cottage project.
Flood’s son, Justin Flood, appeared before Council in November to pitch the idea of an indoor waterpark and resort hotel he would like to develop on property overlooking the Boardwalk at Eighth Street between Moorlyn Terrace and Plymouth Place.
Justin Flood raised the possibility of a land swap that could result in the city getting property owned by Flood’s family on 16th Street in return for two municipal parking lots he would use to develop the waterpark and hotel. City officials had no immediate response to Flood’s proposed land exchange.