MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Friends, family and supporters of former Mayor Dan Lockwood turned the unveiling of his portrait in the meeting room at Township Hall into a celebration of the man himself.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents praised the township’s first Republican committee member in decades while describing a sometimes-irascible man who is deeply committed to his community.
Lockwood’s photo joins those of a long line of Middle Township mayors, next to the photo Susan Atkinson DeLanzo, the first woman to serve in the position when she was named to the job in 2010.
Joined by his wife, Sylvia, and daughter Danielle, Lockwood teased current Mayor Tim Donohue, saying the wall was running out of room. Donohue suggested starting another row, or just including Republican mayors, joking that there would then be plenty of room.
Lockwood won his seat on Township Committee in 2009, serving two terms. Although the Republican Party has dominated Cape May County politics since after the Civil War, that has not been the case in Middle Township. Lockwood was the first Republican elected in Middle Township in close to 50 years, and the first Republican mayor in more than 70 years in 2012.
In Middle Township, the mayor is chosen each year by the three committee members, which means the party with the majority on committee typically holds the mayor’s seat. With Donohue’s election in 2011, the board had its first Republican majority in generations.
At the Wednesday meeting, Donohue thanked Lockwood for stepping aside for him to serve as mayor in 2014.
“That decision on his part demonstrates that it was never, ever about him or titles or headlines or seeking higher office, but always and only about doing the good work and bringing the good people together to get that work done,” Donohue said. “Dan, I am proud to have been your colleague on this dais. I’m proud to have shared the foxhole with you.”
He said he was most proud to call Lockwood his friend and brother, “and to call your family my family.”
Lockwood fell narrowly short when he first ran for office in 2008. He tried again and won in 2009.
“Dan’s election ushered in a new era of openness, transparency and accountability in Middle Township and upended 80 years of one-party rule,” Donohue said.
He praised Lockwood’s dedication and his efforts to reduce spending and avoid increasing taxes, saying this was done while maintaining or expanding municipal services. In sometimes emotional comments, Donohue praised Lockwood’s family, saying they were also involved in the battles, and thanking them for welcoming him as a family member.
Like others, Donohue mentioned Lockwood’s strident side as well.
“His passion matched his work ethic, and I was forever reminding him that he did not need to attend every argument to which he was invited,” Donohue said.
Donohue lost the mayor’s seat when the majority toggled back to the Democrats, putting Committeeman Michael Clark’s party in the majority. With the election of Theron “Ike” Gandy this year, the Republicans returned to the majority and Donohue again became mayor.
Clark, now the lone Democrat on the governing body, was not at the committee meeting.
Lockwood has remained involved since leaving office, rarely missing a Township Committee meeting and working on Republican campaigns, including Gandy’s successful run in 2018. Gandy thanked Lockwood for getting him involved in politics, saying it was everything he said it would be.
He added that Lockwood is a polarizing figure, whom many in the community either love or hate. During the campaign, he said many residents asked why he was aligned with Lockwood. He questioned whether they took issue with him personally or with the work he did for the township.
“They never said it was the latter. They’d always say he can be kind of brash or arrogant. And I’m like, it doesn’t justify the man. It’s the actions that justify a man,” Gandy said. “So it’s definitely an honor seeing your picture on that wall.”
The beginning of the meeting was all about Lockwood, with several speakers standing to praise him, while some said he could challenge people.
Longtime Township Clerk Kim Krauss, recently named the new township administrator, described a sign on her desk that said everyone who comes into the office brings joy; some by arriving, others by leaving.
“You used to always say to me, ‘I’m the latter of the two, right?’” she said.
She praised Lockwood’s dedication as a public servant, calling working for the good of the community a high ideal.
“I can honestly say, Dan, it has been a true honor and privilege to work with you throughout these many years,” she said.
Melanie Collette, of Cape May Court House, thanked Lockwood, saying he taught her that everything is possible in municipal government, and that “you can actually make changes that affect your lives. That politics mean something. That civil service means something, and it affects people. And it’s important.”