By Donald Wittkowski and Maddy Vitale
Mayor Jay Gillian swept to a commanding win Tuesday night over challenger John Flood to capture his third four-year term as Ocean City’s top elected official.
Unofficial totals showed Gillian topping Flood by a nearly 2-1 margin in an election marked by a low turnout – about 35 percent – among the city’s 9,226 registered voters.
Gillian carried all four of the city’s wards while tallying 2,023 votes. Flood, a former city councilman seeking a political comeback, garnered 1,162 votes, according to results released by the City Clerk’s Office.
Incumbent City Council members Keith Hartzell, Karen Bergman and Peter Madden all ran unopposed for their at-large seats. Hartzell had 2,431 votes, Bergman 2,362 and Madden 2,335.
With his wife, Michele, at his side, Gillian addressed a roomful of jubilant supporters at the Flanders Hotel shortly after 9 p.m., when it became clear he was an easy winner.
“It’s all about the team,” Gillian said while thanking his family, members of City Council, his senior staff and his campaign volunteers.
He paid special tribute to his wife, whom he jokingly referred to as the “real mayor,” as well as his father, Roy Gillian, a former Ocean City mayor. Gillian, 53, followed his father into politics.
Sounding a theme of unity, Gillian said he was able to form a partnership with Council during his first two terms in office to avoid any bickering or political “games.”
“They know exactly where I’m coming from. There’s no more games,” he said.
Also during his remarks, Gillian reminded his supporters that there is still much to accomplish as his prepares to enter his third term. He has been focusing on rebuilding the city’s aging infrastructure through a five-year, $100 million capital plan that includes an array of road, drainage and dredging projects.
“We’ve got to keep on working hard,” he said. “We’ve got a lot – a lot – of work to do.”
In stark contrast to Gillian’s elated campaign celebration, the mood at Flood’s headquarters was more somber.
As the vote totals came in, Flood studied them with his daughter, Katie Flood.
“It’s over,” he said.
But while Flood seemed to concede early on, supporters continued to pour in. They sat and chatted and enjoyed his wife Kathy Flood’s homemade baked goods.
Despite some gloomy faces, Flood remained upbeat, walked around and joked with his crowd of supporters. He conceded to Gillian.
“I would like to congratulate the mayor on being re-elected,” he said. “It has been an interesting two months. I talked to hundreds of people at their front door, at the post office, on the street, online or on the phone. The voters have now decided they want the mayor to continue the present course. I hope for the best for Ocean City and I thank the community for their gracious and kind effort.”
The focus of his campaign was to outline for voters what he believed was overspending for capital projects and borrowing. Flood said he wanted voters to know what was going to happen with the debt.
Earlier in the day, about 10 a.m., Flood cast his vote at a polling booth in the Ocean City Free Public Library, with his wife, Kathy, by his side.
“I can’t wait until it’s over,” Flood said with a smile.
It was January when Flood decided to seek the mayor’s office – 30 years after he first sat on City Council. He served from 1988 to 1996 and briefly returned to the governing body in 2011 to fill an unexpired term of a former Council member.
He explained why he decided to seek election after a seven-year hiatus from politics.
“I went into this because I saw things most people don’t see, and I told them,” he said moments after he voted. “So now they will choose.”
Over the months Flood put together his team and hit the streets with the help of his family, including his children Justin and Katie. He led a grass roots campaign. He got his message out to some of the voters – just not enough of them.
“He worked so hard,” Kathy Flood said.
The race between Gillian and Flood pitted two high-profile, experienced politicians who hammered each other with accusations of misconduct in the divisive final weeks of the campaign.
Gillian accused Flood of manufacturing “fake news” in response to a series of attacks mounted by Flood.
The campaign took on a nastier tone in April when Flood accused Gillian of benefiting from a city restroom project built next door to Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, the mayor’s Boardwalk amusement park business. Flood said the public restrooms would draw more customers to Wonderland Pier, but Gillian denied the allegations, calling them “toilet politics.”
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.
Although the mayoral race was bitterly contested, there was no such drama in the City Council election, with all three incumbents facing no opposition.
Hartzell, who first joined Council in 2006 and is the longest-serving member, won his fourth term.
Addressing the crowd at the Flanders, Hartzell noted that Gillian urged the Council members not to respond to negative attacks during the campaign and to instead “take the high road.”
“It worked, mayor. You were right,” Hartzell said to Gillian.
Madden, who has served as Council president for the past two years, captured his second term.
Bergman’s win Tuesday night was a follow-up to her 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 said they believed the lack of opposition suggests that voters are satisfied with the direction the city is heading during their time on Council.