ABSECON — City Councilman Jim Vizthum, 45, was elected City Council president in a 4-2 vote Thursday night at the city’s annual reorganization.
Democrats Sandy Shenk Cain, 53, and Kim Horton, 57, unsuccessfully supported Horton instead of Vizthum, a Republican.
Vizthum said in an interview that council’s main focus will be the budget, with additional meetings scheduled for the next few months. He said that he believed council would keep an eye on expenditures while keeping the safety of residents in mind.
He also said he hopes residents will pay attention to the meeting schedules and agendas, and will come and speak their minds on the issues.
The city also saw its first new mayor since the 1980s, when former Atlantic County Administrator John Armstrong, 64, a Democrat, was sworn into office by his wife, the retired Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong, 67.
“I have to say that this is a unique honor and privilege to swear in my husband,” Valerie Armstrong said before administering the oath.
“What’s different is the preposition she used after the word ‘swear,’” John Armstrong said, to laughs.
“Now, you just have to listen and do what I say,” Valerie Armstrong replied to more laughs.
In a brief speech later, John Armstrong said that he would assemble a 20-person advisory committee from across the city to meet with him monthly to discuss concerns. He also pledged to schedule weekly discussions with residents to discuss city business.
While the city’s form of government does not require the mayor to vote on most matters, he promised to speak his mind. “The people of Absecon did not elect me to serve as bystander-in-chief,” he said to applause.
He said he would also prioritize needs with the goal of keeping taxes at current or lower levels. With 13 percent unemployment in Atlantic County, John Armstrong said, “we must recognize locally we are facing an economic depression.”
About 130 people attended the swearing-in, filling the council chambers and spilling out into the lobby. A familiar face sat three rows back, watching.
It was the first time in years that former Mayor Peter Elco, 66, had been out of government. He was first elected to City Council 32 years ago, and spent the past 24 years as the city’s mayor.
In 1988, the Pleasantville High School grad took the mayor’s seat, upsetting Orvis Leopardi, a Republican and a three-term incumbent. Elco promised improved leadership and better representation during that campaign. As mayor, he promised to unite the community and bring together the factions that had divided it.
That was a goal he accomplished, with municipal discussions between him and the City Council generally marked by a civil and genial tone.
He was cautious with his parting remarks Thursday, saying in an interview that his highlights in office included “the partnerships established with our fellow officials,” programs undertaken with the county, and a safe Route 30.
Also sworn to council were Cain and Frank Phillips, 53, a Republican, who both won seats in November.
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