MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — In the midst of an exceptionally contentious mid-term election, Middle Township may be the site of the most congenial contests on the ballot this year, as incumbent Committeeman Jeffrey DeVico faces off against challenger Theron “Ike” Gandy.
Both men are lifelong township residents, both from well-known families in the township. At a recent meet-the-candidates event at the Wednesday, Oct. 3 meeting of the local chapter of the AARP, both men said this year the voters can’t lose.
"I know Jeff, I’ve known him my whole life, I know his children,” Gandy said. “We’re both good guys. We’re both from here. I’m just going to ask you to vote for me on Nov. 6. He’s had three years, give me three years.”
The two candidates were each given a chance to introduce themselves and speak briefly about their ideas for Township Committee. The candidates indicated they were willing to answer questions and several people in the audience had questions to ask, but AARP chapter President Burgess “Butch” Hamer said that was not part of the format and moved the meeting on.
This election could tip the balance of power on the three-member Township Committee back to Republican control. The current Democratic majority took back the township governing body when DeVico was elected in 2015, when he narrowly beat Republican incumbent Dan Lockwood. Along with current Committeeman Timothy Donohue, Lockwood had helped break a Democratic lock on the township government that had lasted decades.
Partisan politics looms large for most of the ballot, with a chance of a change in party for the 2nd Congressional district, where polls show Democrat Jeff Van Drew leading against Republican Seth Grossman to replace Republican Frank LoBiondo, who is not seeking re-election this year, and for one of New Jersey’s Senate seats, where incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez faces a challenge from Republican Bob Hugin.
On Wednesday, both candidates kept the focus local. In fact, neither man mentioned party affiliation at all, and DeVico praised both his opponent and Lockwood, who attended the event.
“It was an honor of mine to work after Dan, because he started some good things in town,” DeVico said.
DeVico, 52, grew up in Rio Grande. He’s a retired Middle Township police officer, although on Wednesday he only mentioned the family business, Klenswite Pools and Spas in Rio Grande, where he is the third generation to run the business, following his grandfather and father.
“I should really say my mother, because my mother started the pool business. My dad took it over as a bleach business. My mom turned it into a swimming pool business,” he said.
He and his wife have three grown children, a daughter and two sons. One son works at Klenswite, and DeVico hopes the other son will as well when he graduates from Rowan University.
Both DeVico and Mayor Michael Clark are Democrats, but he presented himself to the AARP members as representing the middle ground between the mayor and Donohue, the committee’s lone Republican. He described himself as the in-the-middle guy.
DeVico cited several projects, both underway or completed, including work to improve traffic in the Cape May Court House area and a county Open Space grant to improve the Rio Grande Park, which is set to include a dog park. He said the township is working to address numerous issues.
“We’ve grown as a community and a lot of you guys have seen that happen,” he said.
The township has done good things, Gandy said. But he suggested Township Committee also has to look at cost and to consider the impact on taxes.
“We do a lot of good work with our money. But we have to evaluate if the good is going to undermine the people who want to live here in Middle Township,” he said.
Gandy, 46, grew up in the Green Creek section of the township. He and his wife have a 10-year-old son. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all builders. He works as a union carpenter.
“I’m a fourth-generation hammer-holder here in Middle Township,” he said. Currently, he’s working on the renovations to the Superior Court. He apologized that the work takes place late at night. “If we interrupt a court session, that could mean contempt of court or a mistrial, so we have to do it at night.”
Both Gandy and DeVico are well known names in the township. Gandy pointed out that the senior center where they spoke carried the DeVico name. It was named for the candidate’s uncle, Sam DeVico, a former mayor and longtime committee member. Gandy also carries a family name.
“My real name, my given name is Theron Harold Gandy III. It made the ‘70s really fun here in Middle Township,” he said, explaining that it made sense for him to go by Ike from a very early age.
“The reason I’m running is I feel that we need to get back to fiscal responsibility here in Middle Township,” Gandy said.
About 30 people attended the afternoon meeting, which also included comments from Cape May County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, on hand to discuss absentee ballots.
She described the coming midterm election as historic, saying there is greater than usual interest this year, including college students inquiring about registration and increased interest, something that typically only happens for presidential elections.
An AARP member asked about voter turnout, which he described as disappointingly low. She said she expects to see more voters this year, “just because of everything that’s in play,” but she did not see a need for officials to try to stimulate turnout.
“Frankly, to vote is all of our privilege and it’s up to us. It’s really not up to our government,” she said. “We make it available, it’s there, we make it as convenient as possible for folks but it’s our privilege to vote or not to vote. That’s our right.”
The last day to register for the Nov. 6 general election is Oct. 16.