By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Two incumbents and two political newcomers took the oath of office Wednesday on City Council and immediately presented a unified front in efforts to get the beach resort fully reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael DeVlieger and Bob Barr are returning to Council for new terms, while Jody Levchuk and Tom Rotondi join the governing body for the first time after winning seats in the May municipal election.
Barr was appointed president and DeVlieger will assume the role as vice president in a reorganization of the leadership positions on the seven-member Council.
DeVlieger, 53, who is starting his third term, represents the First Ward. Barr, 38, who is entering his second term, is the Fourth Ward councilman.
Levchuk, 43, won his Third Ward seat in the city’s only contested race, while the 41-year-old Rotondi ran unopposed in the Second Ward.
At-large Council members Karen Bergman, Keith Hartzell and Peter Madden were not up for election this year.
DeVlieger, Barr, Rotondi and Levchuk all thanked their family members, voters and a host of others for their support. They also spoke effusively about their love for Ocean City and their willingness to work hard for taxpayers.
“You have to love what you do in order to do it well,” said Levchuk, a businessman whose family owns the Jilly’s retail shops, arcades and amusements on the Boardwalk.
Rotondi became emotional while telling the audience of how his Italian grandparents immigrated to the United States after World War II, allowing his family to take advantage of the economic opportunities of their new homeland.
“I’m a first generation American and I’m proud of that fact and my family is as well,” said Rotondi, a U.S. Army veteran who works as a consultant specializing in health and benefits for nonprofits and municipalities.
Council members are elected to four-year terms and work closely with Mayor Jay Gillian and his administration to run the local government.
Barr, DeVlieger, Rotondi and Levchuk all pledged to collaborate with Gillian to help Ocean City and its local business community recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
“Ocean City will rise up. We will come together. We will be back as strong as ever,” Barr said in comments echoed by the other Council members.
Council’s reorganization meeting reflected the challenges of the pandemic. It was held at the cavernous Music Pier, which has a nearly 1,000-seat capacity, but only 100 people were allowed inside the building because of social distancing requirements.
“As we look around the room, it’s not what we normally do,” Michael Hartman, the city’s special events coordinator, said of the small audience inside the Music Pier while he emceed the reorganization meeting.
Council members and the rest of the people inside the Music Pier wore face coverings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. An overflow area was set up outside on the Music Pier’s loggia for people who could not go inside.
Noting that the city mounted a communitywide recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Barr expressed confidence that the same thing will happen to help the town rebound from the coronavirus crisis.
In words of encouragement directed at local business owners who are struggling during the pandemic, Barr said, “We’ve got your back.”
DeVlieger also underscored the importance of supporting the local business community in “any way we can.” He also stressed the need to protect and preserve the city’s tourism-dependent economy amid the pandemic.
“People love to come to Ocean City,” DeVlieger said.
As New Jersey gradually emerges from the pandemic, Ocean City’s Boardwalk will get a boost starting on Thursday when amusement parks, water parks and arcades are allowed to reopen with safety protocols in place.
Gillian, who owns the Wonderland Pier amusement park, said Ocean City will work with Gov. Phil Murphy and his office on another key step for re-energizing the economy – getting the governor to reopen indoor dining.
“I think it’s something we can control,” Gillian said of protecting the safety of restaurant customers eating indoors.
The governor had intended to allow indoor dining to resume on Thursday, but rescinded those plans after videos went viral showing overcrowded New Jersey bars and bar patrons not wearing protective masks.
In remarks during Council’s reorganization meeting, Gillian said it is “absolutely imperative” that people wear face coverings. He said a new public campaign will be launched to stress the importance of wearing a mask in public places.