By Donald Wittkowski
A bitterly contested mayoral election, overshadowed by allegations of “toilet politics,” will come to a climax when voters go to the polls on Tuesday to choose between incumbent Mayor Jay Gillian and challenger John Flood for Ocean City’s top office.
The race between Gillian and Flood pits two high-profile, experienced politicians who have been hammering each other with accusations of misconduct in the divisive final weeks of the campaign.
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Gillian, who won election in 2010 and 2014, is seeking his third, four-year term as the city’s top elected official. Flood, a former member of City Council, is looking to make a comeback after a seven-year hiatus from politics.
Meanwhile, the municipal election also includes three incumbent at-large City Council members who are facing no opposition in their race for new four-year terms.
Keith Hartzell, who first joined Council in 2006 and is the longest-serving member, is seeking his fourth term.
Peter Madden, who has served as Council president for the past two years, is running for his second term.
Karen Bergman, the third Council incumbent, won election in 2016 to fill the unexpired term of former at-large Councilman Michael Allegretto, who resigned in 2015 to become the city’s director of Community Services.
Bergman served as a Second Ward councilwoman from 2008 to 2012, but chose not to seek re-election in 2012. She returned to the governing body in 2015, when she was unanimously appointed by Council to temporarily fill Allegretto’s vacant seat leading up to the 2016 election.
Hartzell, Madden and Bergman have said they believe the lack of opposition suggests that voters are satisfied with the direction the city is heading during their time on Council.
Although the Council race has featured no drama, the mayoral campaign has grown nastier in recent weeks as Gillian and Flood have taken potshots at each other over a series of issues, including the construction of a city restroom project on the Boardwalk.
Flood has repeatedly alleged that the large restroom project, which he estimates will cost upwards of $1 million, will benefit the mayor by drawing more customers to his business, the Gillian’s Wonderland Pier amusement park next door on the Boardwalk.
In denying the accusations, Gillian has responded by criticizing Flood for engaging in “toilet politics.” Gillian said the restroom project was built at Sixth Street to serve a busy part of the Boardwalk, as well as the heavily used Ocean City High School athletic complex nearby.
Flood has also accused Gillian of “diverting” city resources away from a critical flood-control system to instead concentrate on the public restroom project. Those allegations brought more denials from Gillian.
In the final week of the campaign, Flood alleged that the mayor has been using a secret email domain that serves as his “private chat room” for city business, away from public scrutiny.
In response, Gillian said the domain was created by an employee of the city’s outside IT consultant for official city business. Denying any secrecy, Gillian said copies of emails sent on the same domain may be obtained by the public in requests through the state Open Public Records Act.
During the campaign, Gillian has focused on his record of rebuilding the city’s aging infrastructure through a five-year, $100 million capital plan that includes an array of road, drainage and dredging projects.
Gillian has asked voters to re-elect him to allow him to continue the work he has started, particularly with the city’s capital improvements.
Flood favors modernizing the city’s infrastructure, but wants to see the capital plan done at a slower pace. He believes the city risks taking on too much debt and is vulnerable to tax increases unless the capital plan is slowed down.
Both Gillian and Flood have been touting their experience in public office and the local business community during the campaign. They come from families that trace their roots in Ocean City back for generations. Both of them are lifelong residents.
Gillian, 53, followed his father, former Ocean City Mayor Roy Gillian, into politics. He is the third generation of his family to own Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, the Boardwalk’s historic amusement park founded in 1929 by his grandfather, David.
In interviews, Gillian has said his proudest moments as mayor include helping the city recover and rebuild from Hurricane Sandy’s devastating blow in 2012.
The 65-year-old 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 a former Council member.
Flood’s grandparents came to the resort about 100 years ago. His grandfather, Emil Palmer, founded the former local Chevrolet dealership in 1933.
A commercial real estate developer, Flood owns land concentrated around 16th Street and Haven Avenue, including the property where the former Chevrolet dealership was located. The CVS store on 16th Street, a car wash and professional offices are among his commercial tenants.