Ocean City Councilman Keith Hartzell Says Goodbye

Ocean City Councilman Keith Hartzell Says Goodbye

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Councilman Keith Hartzell, left, gives a hug to former Councilman Tony Wilson during Hartzell's last meeting as a member of the governing body.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Struggling to hold back tears at times, Councilman Keith Hartzell bade an emotional farewell Thursday night while closing out his 16-year career as an Ocean City elected official.

“We live in the most wonderful town, and I can’t see any other place that I would want to live. This town’s given me more than I could ever give back,” Hartzell said while thanking God in his opening prayer at what was his last Council meeting.

Speaking for about 20 minutes, Hartzell recapped parts of his political career and thanked his late parents, his late grandmother and many other people who helped to shape his life and his time in elected office.

“These 16 years have been wonderful,” he concluded.

Hartzell also expressed his love for his domestic partner, Becky Friedel, while handing her a bouquet of red roses and kissing her while she sat in the audience in the Council Chambers.

“It’s your time, babe,” he said to Friedel about leaving the decision to her how they will spend their future together.

Although Hartzell became emotional during his remarks, he also mixed in bits of humor, poking fun at himself for his penchant to talk at length during Council meetings. He jokingly unfurled a lengthy scroll of paper while pretending it would serve as a long farewell speech.

Hartzell, 66, who first joined Council in 2006 and was its longest-serving member, made the decision to leave the governing body to challenge Mayor Jay Gillian in the May 10 municipal election. Gillian defeated Hartzell in the mayoral race by nearly 400 votes.

Council President Bob Barr, right, seated next to Vice President Tom Rotondi, announced that he is relinquishing the president’s position.

The seven-member Council will undergo a restructuring when it formally reorganizes on July 1. Hartzell’s former at-large seat will be taken by political newcomer Tony Polcini. Polcini teamed up with incumbents Karen Bergman and Pete Madden to win the three at-large Council seats that were up for grabs in the May election.

The reorganization meeting will also include the selection of a new Council president. In a surprise announcement Thursday night, Council President Bob Barr said he is relinquishing the position he has held the last two years to open the door for new leadership on the governing body.

“I want to devote more time to other things. Being president is very time-consuming. I also believe in passing the job around,” Barr said in an interview of his decision to step down as president.

Barr, who will remain on Council, backed Hartzell in his bid for mayor. In emotional remarks Thursday night, both men thanked each other for their support and friendship over the years.

Hartzell called Barr his “brother from a different mother.” Barr said that no one has had “more passion” than Hartzell in representing the city as an elected official and helping the residents.

One by one, all of the other Council members thanked Hartzell for his public service and devotion to the city.

“Whenever you did anything, you always did it at 150 percent,” Bergman said while thanking Hartzell for persuading her to first run for Council in 2008.

Bergman, the only woman on Council, may be poised to be the next president. After she won re-election with the most votes of any candidate, she made it clear she would be willing to serve as president if she is supported by her fellow Council members.

Keith Hartzell, right, seated next to Councilman Jody Levchuk, was Council’s longest-serving member.

During his lengthy Council career, Hartzell served as both president and vice president at times. Council adopted a resolution praising Hartzell for serving with distinction and honor.

While on Council, Hartzell was part of an unprecedented effort by the governing body and the mayor to improve Ocean City’s infrastructure, including flood-mitigation projects, road reconstruction, a multiyear dredging program for the back bays and the creation of open space.

Former Council members Tony Wilson and Mike DeVlieger spoke glowingly of Hartzell’s work ethic and passion for public service.

“His passion for this job is unparalleled,” Wilson said.

“You always did a hell of a job,” DeVlieger told Hartzell.

Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, who served with Hartzell on City Council before winning election to the Statehouse in 2019, presented Hartzell with a state proclamation.

“Your selflessness is unbelievable,” McClellan said.

Cape May County Commissioner Leonard Desiderio, who is also Sea Isle City’s mayor, honored Hartzell with a county proclamation.

“You have done a wonderful job as a (Council) member,” Desiderio said. “Your commitment and dedication to the citizens of Ocean City is greatly appreciated.”

Keith Hartzell is honored with a county proclamation presented by Cape May County Commissioner Leonard Desiderio.

Members of the public also praised Hartzell for his commitment to the city and the residents.

Suzanne Hornick, founder of the Ocean City Flooding Committee, said Hartzell’s departure from Council will be a “tremendous loss” for the town.

“He’s been so selfless. Even when we disagreed, he always took the time to listen,” Hornick said.

Donna Moore, an Ocean City resident and environmental advocate who often addresses Council about the shore’s fragile environment, thanked Hartzell for “listening to the people.”

“I’m grateful for your service and your passion for our town. You will be missed,” Moore said.