CAPE MAY _Mayor Ed Mahaney faces an attempt to oust him from office as three residents have filed a petition to begin a recall process.
The petition was filed Monday at the City Clerk’s Office by Trenton Avenue resident Charles Hendricks, Lafayette Street resident Thomas Keene, and Beach Avenue resident MaryJo Pinelli.
Hendricks, who along with his wife Patricia is a constant critic of Mahaney at City Council meetings, led off the campaign with a zinger.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this. There are parts of Mahaney I like, but it’s only about five percent,” said Hendricks.
Reached by phone, Mahaney said he was not aware of the petition.
Hendricks, who made an unsuccessful bid for council in the November election, has seen victory and defeat in battles with Mahaney. An ethics complaint he filed against Mahaney was dismissed in 2012 by the state Department of Community Affairs as having “no reasonable factual basis.”
The complaint had to do with city contracts given to Mahaney’s alma mater, Temple University, which had been reviewed by the city solicitor and voted on by City Council at public meetings. Mahaney called it an “unjustified and brutal attack” all about election year politics. He won the mayor’s race later that year.
In 2010 Hendricks was involved with a group that defeated a city plan to add parking meters on the east side of town. He has also been critical of the mayor’s handling of an attempt to preserve the Sewell’s Point tract and more recently of the controversial demotion of Robert Sheehan from police chief to captain, which Mahaney voted for.
A press release issued by the petitioners said the 3-2 council vote to demote Sheehan was unlawful and damaged the city’s reputation.
The petition also alleges the mayor violates the state’s Faulkner Act, which gives him legislative power but no administrative authority over day-to-day operations. It also cites high legal fees (up to $750,000 this year) related partly to construction issues at Cape May Convention Hall. The petitioners also argue the Fire Department is understaffed and this threatens public safety.
Mahaney, who came here in 1966 to work as a waiter at the Hotel Macomber, has never lost an election. He won his first in 1995, becoming mayor as the top vote-getter among 10 candidates seeking five seats. He won a council seat in 1997 and 2000 but took a hiatus from June, 2003 to May, 2008. He had a heart value replaced in 2000.
Mahaney won again in 2008 and 2012. He also served on the Planning Board for many years, beginning in 1991.
Mahaney, a retired educator, has always been the top vote-getter in any election in which he ran. Asked why, he once said the voting public appreciates his work ethic and independence.
“I don’t own a business or have a professional office or any type of employment in the city, so therefore people know my approach is to be fair to all segments of the city population. I have no bias. I will not accept a campaign contribution from any company or individual who had a contract with the city or desires and expects to have a decision in his or her favor. That allows me to vote my conscience on every single issue.”
The petition is the beginning of process that could lead to a recall election where voters are asked whether they want to remove Mahaney from office. The ballot would also have candidates who are seeking to replace him, though it would only be until his term ends at the end of 2016.
Jerry Inderwies Jr., who resigned from council in March in protest of the Sheehan demotion, said he is not interested in running.
“I don’t know who they have in mind but I’m not interested at this time. It’s probably a good opportunity. Anybody with common sense and a good background can win,” said Inderwies.
Hendricks said it is too early to discuss candidates.
“I’d rather not discuss what I know in that area. We’re taking one step at a time,” Hendricks said.
The first step is certification of the petition by City Clerk Louise Cummiskey. Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti said she has three days to answer the petition.
If approved, the petitioners need 481 signatures from voters registered in the city. This is 25 percent of the registered voters in the November 2014 election.
If approved, candidates can file for the seat. Mahaney could even be a candidate. Even those who vote against recalling him could still cast a vote for a candidate. The vote could be at the general election on Nov. 3 or a special election more than 60 days prior or at least 60 days after the general, which will also feature the seat held by Councilman Jack Wichterman.
Hendricks said they have 160 days to get the signatures.
“If we don’t get 500 we won’t go forward,” he said.
The city’s last recall was in 1990 when Robert Elwell and Jerry Gaffney were selected to replace council members Joe Tracy and Angelo Infanto.
Fulginiti said there have been other recall elections in recent years including Ocean City, Wildwood and West Wildwood.