ABSECON — For the first time in 24 years, the city will have a new mayor, and the two candidates have begun campaigning.
Mayor Pete Elco has decided not to run again after completing his sixth term. Voters in November will pick between Republican Jerry Falivene, the current City Council president, and Democrat John Armstrong, a former Atlantic County administrator.
Falivene, 47, is serving his 10th year on council and his second as council president. He unsuccessfully ran against Elco in 2008.
The owner of J Fal Contractors said the role of mayor is primarily public safety. He chaired the council’s Public Safety Department for six years.
“I’ve done all the roles,” he said. “I’ve gone through all the steps from council to council president, and the next step is mayor.”
Falivene said his family has roots in Absecon going back 100 years and that his love of the city fuels his desire to be involved in politics.
Armstrong, 64, has served as vice president of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and has been an attorney for area planning and zoning boards. He is a retired attorney from the Cooper Levenson Law Firm in Atlantic City.
“Initially when I was asked (to run for mayor) I backed off, but I’m retired and have time to do this,” he said. “I have a background that I think is useful and can be applied to help the people of Absecon.”
Falivene said that if elected he will continue the city’s record of fiscal conservatism. He noted there have not been any violations discovered in audits, and the city — despite declining revenue — has not had to lay off or require furloughs of employees.
“We do everything right fiscally,” he said. “Because of it, when other towns have had to use layoffs, we didn’t have to. We weathered the storm.”
Also running on the Republican slate for City Council are Frank Phillips, vice president and business agent for Teamsters Local 331, for Ward 1, and former Councilman Chuck Urban for Ward 2.
The current council has five Republicans and two Democrats.
Armstrong is running with council candidates Sandy Shenk-Cain, a teacher in the Galloway Township school district, for Ward 2, and Bart Richter, founder of the Shelby Richter Foundation, which he started for his daughter after she died of cancer, in Ward 1.
The group of Democrats — none of whom has ever served in elected office — has started biking and walking around the city wearing “Team Absecon” jerseys. The red, white and blue apparel is a takeoff on the Olympics.
Their platform includes keeping taxes down, creating a recreational master plan to expand bike paths and parks in the city, improving public safety by implementing community watches, updating the city’s website and promoting community development.
Armstrong also has a proposal to combine the city’s planning and zoning boards into a Land Use Board, which he says would make proposing new development in the city more efficient and cut down on costs.
Armstrong said the two boards have overlapping jurisdictions, and there is a concern that applicants will pick the board they feel they have the better chance of getting approval from. Under his plan, all applications would go before the Land Use Board, and the city would cut down on the number of members and meetings it holds.
An additional part of his proposal is allowing council to approve all recommendations to the board instead of the mayor selecting them himself.
But Falivene said council has discussed the idea in the past and said it would not save a significant amount of money. He also said he is concerned a single board may be overloaded with work. He notes the city’s Planning Board is developing an affordable-housing plan and the city’s Zoning Board has spent the past four months hearing an application to remove the senior housing designation from the Visions at the Shore development on Pitney Road.
“Can you ask a group of volunteers to handle that volume of work?” he asked. “If you’re not going to have big savings, why do it?”
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