WILDWOOD - Mayor Gary DeMarzo lost his re-election bid Tuesday night following a campaign that alternately focused on the cost of the city's employees, currently facing 42 potential layoffs, and an official misconduct charge the mayor is facing.
DeMarzo, first elected to City Commission in 2007, became mayor in December 2009 after supporting the successful recall of then-Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. and Commissioner Bill Davenport. He came in fourth in this election with 452 votes.
But on Tuesday, Troiano won another term on City Commission with the most votes at 738, just 17 months after being recalled from office.
"I feel somewhat vindicated," Troiano said as he and his running mates, Peter Byron and Anthony Leonetti, celebrated their win at the Bolero Resort. "But we have a lot of work ahead of us."
Troiano and DeMarzo agreed on little while serving on the commission together, but on Tuesday night both said the indictment against DeMarzo, which alleges he used city funds to pay for private legal services, likely played only a small part in the results.
"I don't think the indictment made a difference," Troiano said. "The safety of the community - that is what people are concerned about. You can't put a price on safety."
DeMarzo said he was a bit surprised by Tuesday's outcome, but he also said the indictment, which was handed up by a grand jury in March, was not behind Tuesday's results.
"It's my belief that it was strictly based on a monetary issue driven by (city employees) where the municipality is the largest employer," DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo, a former city police officer, supported the city's 2011 budget, which includes the layoffs of as many as 42 employees, including 20 police officers and at least five firefighters.
The police and fire unions in the city had actively campaigned against DeMarzo, questioning what effect the layoffs would have on public safety.
DeMarzo said the city employees made use of fear and intimidation to scare residents into believing their safety was at risk.
"They are an intimidating bunch," DeMarzo said. "And again, they are funded by the taxpayers. It will be interesting to see how that $2 million hole will be filled."
However, city voters approved the ballot question that would allow staffing levels within the Police Department to be revised.
The city expected to cut $2 million from its budget with the layoffs, which Troiano and his running mates oppose.
Byron said he was thrilled with his win.
"I think Wildwood really understands that we are truly at a crossroads and they took the right direction," Byron said.
"I think the health and safety issue was huge," he added. "Plus, we had a vision for the town. Our platform wasn't just lower taxes. It was redeveloping the town.
Leonetti was happy to win in his first foray into politics.
"I can't stress how much we're going to work for the city," he said.
DeMarzo's running mates, Commissioner Edward Harshaw and first-time candidate Dara Baltuskonis, were disappointed with the outcome, but Harshaw said he wished the winners good luck.
"They won. It is what it is," Baltuskonis said. "I'll be moving because I can't afford him. My house will be going up for sale."
Her team had campaigned with a focus on the city's spending and tax rate under Troiano.
Baltuskonis said "a lot of fear and a lot of intimidation" by police and fire employees who went door-to-door and at the polling place was behind DeMarzo's defeat.
Police Lt. Christopher Howard, president of the local police union, said Tuesday that the losing candidates' accusations were off the mark.
"The election is over and the good hardworking people here have voiced their opinion," Howard said."Throwing stones at this point is just sour grapes."
Harshaw said the indictment may have played some role. "People were uncomfortable with that. I don't know to what extent, but I think what hurt more was the bickering between the mayor and Commissioner Al Brannen," he said.
DeMarzo said he had been "completely honored" to serve on the City Commission as a commissioner and mayor.
"My heart and soul goes to the city of Wildwood and anything I can do to assist with the betterment of it will always be my goal," DeMarzo said.
A steady stream of voters made their way through the Wildwoods Convention Center, the city's only polling place, throughout the day.
"We need a change and change for the people for the better," said Pamela Hills, who lives in the 3rd District.
Her friends, Latoya Durham and Barbara Crawley also came to vote.
"Lower taxes," Durham said of her interest in the day's voting results. "And more things for the children." All three said they made up their minds about who to vote for many weeks before the election.
The city's reorganization will take place Tuesday, May 17, at noon in City Hall.
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