By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Mayor Jay Gillian won re-election to a fourth term Tuesday night, defeating challenger Keith Hartzell in a showdown pitting two high-profile, veteran Ocean City politicians.
Unofficial results showed Gillian capturing 2,299 votes to Hartzell’s 1,893.
In the race for three City Council at-large seats, incumbents Karen Bergman and Pete Madden won re-election and were joined by their running mate and political newcomer, Tony Polcini.
According to the unofficial results, Bergman topped all Council candidates with 2,267 votes, Polcini was second with 1,980 and Madden finished third with 1,945. As a team, they called themselves the “Big 3.”
Second Ward Councilman Tom Rotondi, who was making a bid for an at-large seat, ended fourth with 1,897 votes. Former First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger finished fifth with 1,709 votes and environmental advocate Donna Moore placed sixth with 1,502.
Despite all of the seats being contested, the election was marked by a relatively low turnout – about 44 percent – of Ocean City 9,678 registered voters.
Gillian, 57, who captured his first mayoral election in 2010, extended his term for another four years with his win over Hartzell.
“I’m glad it’s over. I just want to get back to work,” Gillian said in an interview after addressing his jubilant supporters during a victory celebration at the Flanders Hotel.
Gillian said the key to his victory was running a clean campaign that focused on his accomplishments during his first 12 years in office. Leading up to the election, he touted his record of rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, undertaking flood-mitigation projects and improving areas of town that are critical to the tourism industry, including the beaches, Boardwalk and bays.
“I stuck to the important issues and ran a clean campaign. That’s what Ocean City is all about,” he said.
Hartzell, who has been a councilman since 2006 and is the governing body’s longest-serving member, proved to be a formidable opponent to Gillian in the mayor’s race.
Hartzell was joined by supporters at Prep’s Pizza on the Boardwalk. He and Council President Bob Barr, Councilmen Jody Levchuk, Rotondi and former Councilman DeVlieger were some of the guests.
Despite losing the election, Hartzell said very matter-of-factly that he was proud of the campaign and appreciative of all of the support along the way.
“I wouldn’t change anything. If I spoke to people, I got their votes. I think a lot of people thought I’d win,” he said. “It’s the hardest the mayor had to campaign in all of his campaigns. It was a heck of a race.”
Hartzell touched upon some of the biggest campaign issues. His campaign emphasized stopping no-bid city contracts, blocking the possible construction of high-rise hotels on the Boardwalk and opposing Gillian’s plan for a new public safety building.
“Just because I lost, doesn’t mean that I didn’t bring those things to the forefront,” he said.
Hartzell, 66, who conceded to Gillian, said he is not too sure about what is next for him when his Council term expires on June 30.
He may live in Florida part of the year. He may retire from his job. One thing is certain, he said, “Ocean City will always be my home.”
Meanwhile, in the Council race, all three of Gillian’s supporters won – including a surprising second-place finish by political novice Polcini, a lifelong resident of Ocean City and former Boardwalk pizzeria owner.
“I was very surprised,” Polcini said of the results.
Ultimately, Polcini said he believes voters supported him because of his honest reputation.
“I think the voters wanted a family person who has roots in Ocean City and is not a politician and works from the heart,” he said.
Bergman may have positioned herself to become the next City Council president by being the top vote-getter. She is the only woman on the seven-member governing body.
In an interview, she said she would be willing to become president if that is what her fellow Council members want.
Bergman attributed the election sweep to great team work by her, Madden and Polcini.
“We worked so good as a team,” she said. “We kept it positive. We brought people together from all different genres.”
Bergman works full time as director of catering at the Flanders Hotel. She first 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 a vacant seat leading up to the 2016 election.
She won in 2016 and then followed up with another victory in the 2018 for a full, four-year term.
With his win, Madden captured his third, four-year term. He is the broker/owner of Goldcoast Sotheby’s International Realty in Ocean City.
Madden said he felt that the win by his team showed that voters are satisfied with the Council incumbents and also were looking for a fresh face.
“I think the consensus in town is that people are happy with the way things are run,” he said. “I see things moving forward with Karen, Tony and myself winning the election.”