Ocean City mayor rejects challenge, holds on for his fifth term in office

Voters in resort town also reject tax limits

October 20, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY - Mayor James N. Mathias Jr., for nearly a decade the spokesman and chief booster of Maryland's beach resort, turned back a strong election challenge yesterday from veteran City Councilman Vincent Gisriel Jr. to win a fifth term in office.

Gisriel, 60, who led a slow-growth coalition, gave up his council seat after 14 years to run against Mathias. He lost by a margin of 1,633 to 1,331.

In an election that many here had predicted would be a watershed for Ocean City, voters rejected not only Gisriel but also a tax limit that would have held future increases in the property tax rate to no more than 2 cents a year.

"Let's face it, the mayor in Ocean City is more of a figurehead without much power," said Frank Berterman, a 10-year city resident. "Mathias is a great ambassador, and that's what Ocean City needs."

There were 6,000 registered voters, and tax-limit proponents believed they had the advantage after getting more than 1,400 signatures on petitions - significant numbers in a nonpartisan election in which five of the seven council seats were up for grabs.

"Gisriel has an impeccable Mr. Clean reputation," said Joe Coleman, a slow-growth coalition member who lost his council bid. "We energized a lot of seniors and retirees, but the clashing styles favored Mathias."

According to election officials, 3,034 people cast ballots in the biennial municipal election. The mayor is elected to a two-year term; council members have staggered four-year terms.

Six of the council candidates were affiliated with the Common Cause Coalition, the group of slow-growth activists that has frequently clashed with council incumbents about the pace of development. Organizers said they were confident even before voters began arriving yesterday at the Roland E. "Fish" Powell Convention Center, Ocean City's only polling place.

All four incumbents seeking to keep their council seats won re-election. James W. "Jay" Hancock III, a retired Police Department spokesman, will be the only newcomer to the council.

Critics had hoped the vote would be a referendum on the pace of development here.

The city's business community backed Mathias, 53, despite the Boardwalk T-shirt shopkeeper's sometimes-prickly relationship with Council President Rick Meehan, a leader in Ocean City's booming real estate industry.

Meehan was the top vote getter with 1,749 votes.

Beverly Simons, a real estate property manager who voted for Mathias, said she was surprised that he won. "In most of the neighborhoods, it was all Gisriel," she said. "I thought people were in the mood for change."

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