LOWER TOWNSHIP — Cape May County’s largest municipality left party politics behind Wednesday night as Township Council reorganized with the three independents that swept out the Republicans in the November election.
Council had a 4-1 Republican majority with Mayor Mike Beck serving as the lone independent. Beck and running mates Norris Clark and James Neville took all three council seats in November. Beck said it is the first time in the township’s history that independents control the governing body.
One of their first actions was to replace Township Solicitor Mike Donohue, who is chairman of the Cape May County Republican organization, giving the job to local attorney Charles W. Sandman III.
“This is a first, and you have three pure independents — registered independents. It’s nice. One of the key reasons it’s nice is you don’t owe anybody,” Beck said.
Clark said he treasured each and every vote, especially the one cast by his diehard-Republican mother.
“When you run as an independent you appreciate every single vote, because you know they are voting for you as a person, not for a party,” Clark said.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, administered the oath of office to Beck, who begins his fourth four-year term, and Clark, for his first elected office. Neville took the oath several weeks ago because he was filling an unexpired term.
Beck called up his wife, Brenda, other family members and campaign supporters as he took the oath.
“Anybody who wants to, come up, because we all fought this thing together,” Beck said.
Van Drew said he had been at many reorganization meetings, including ones where he was sworn into office, but this one was unique. Van Drew said the country’s political system is locked into hyperpartisan politics and insider games, but it’s clear the three independents here plan to serve the people instead of a party.
“I think they showed it's possible. You can be the underdog and people will vote for you. It’s very rare three independents can win anything much less the largest municipality in the county. I’m very proud of them,” Van Drew said.
Several hundred people packed the meeting room while the Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol posted the flag and Boy Scout Troop 73 led the pledge.
Council members vowed to work together. Republican Councilman Glenn Douglass supported the independents in the election over Republicans Kevin Lare, Erik Simonsen and Walt Craig. Republican Councilman Tom Conrad said he is looking forward to working with the independents.
“I think he will vote the issue and his conscience, but I have confidence he’ll be with us the majority of the time,” Beck said of Conrad.
Clark said the group would follow their five campaign goals of spending each tax dollar wisely, operating an open government, pushing public safety, economic development to create jobs and education.
Beck said the group wants to move the police station from the Cape May Airport to the Villas section and take a proactive stance against a growing heroin problem. Beck said they will also look into hiring an in-house engineer instead of contracting with engineering firms for work.
“They work for the firm. They don’t work for the township. We want our own employee,” Beck said.
One of the first actions council took was to replace Donohue. Beck had lobbied against hiring the county Republican chairman in the first place.
“It’s not personal. I just don’t want the county chairman as my solicitor,” Beck said.
Sandman, who took the oath with his wife, Kimberly, by his side, is the son of the late U.S. Rep. Charles W. Sandman Jr., who was township solicitor here before running for Congress.
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