By Donald Wittkowski
The outcome of Sea Isle City’s municipal election Tuesday was never in doubt.
Running unopposed, Mayor Leonard Desiderio and City Council members William Kehner Sr. and Frank Edwardi Jr. were assured of victory the moment they walked into the voting booth.
According to the unofficial totals Tuesday night, Desiderio had 448 votes, Kehner 414 and Edwardi 388. Although his name was on the regular ballot, the mayor even secured one write-in vote.
When the vote totals were announced, Desiderio’s family members and supporters broke into applause and cheers during a low-key gathering at the Sea Isle Inn.
With an election completely devoid of political suspense, the turnout was extremely low among Sea Isle’s 1,840 registered voters.
The incumbents were each elected to new four-year terms. For the 62-year-old Desiderio, who has been mayor since 1993, it will be his eighth term. He also serves as a Cape May County freeholder and is one of only a few officials in New Jersey to hold two elected offices.
“In the last 26 years, if you like what has been happening in Sea Isle City, I played a part in it,” Desiderio said of his long tenure as mayor.
Kehner and Edwardi will be heading into their fourth terms.
The 71-year-old Kehner has a long history in Sea Isle politics. He served one term from 1977 to 1981 under the city’s old commission style of government. He was first elected to City Council in 2007.
Like Kehner, the 51-year-old Edwardi was first elected to Council in 2007.
This was the second straight election that Desiderio, Kehner and Edwardi ran unopposed. They faced no challengers when they were up for re-election in 2015, too.
Both Desiderio and Kehner expressed their thanks to voters during a joint appearance at the Sea Isle Inn. Edwardi wasn’t with them and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
In an interview, Desiderio and Kehner said they believe the lack of opposition to their campaigns reflects voter satisfaction with the direction the city has been heading under the current leadership.
“I think people are happy with what they see in Sea Isle City,” Desiderio said.
Both Desiderio and Kehner stressed the relationship that the city government has built with Sea Isle residents. Desiderio said there is an open dialogue between governing officials and the public.
“We listen to the people,” he said. “No question goes unanswered.”
“We are accessible to the people all of the time,” he continued. “We treat everyone fairly. We’re open to everybody.”
Desiderio and Kehner also touted the partnership between the mayor’s administration and City Council as a factor in their re-election. Reflecting their cooperation, Desiderio, Kehner and Edwardi ran on a unified ticket.
Kehner pointed to the city’s stable tax rate, strong financial structure and flood-fighting projects as examples of how Council and the administration have worked together.
“It’s kind of easy to follow a leader like our mayor,” Kehner said.
In the aftermath of the election, efforts to ease flooding on the low-lying barrier island will continue to be the top priority of city officials, Desiderio and Kehner said.
In recent years, the city has replenished its beaches, undertaken a series of road projects and upgraded its drainage systems as part of a broad strategy to reduce flooding. The city is also in the midst of building its first pumping station to sweep floodwater off the streets.
On March 4, Sea Isle began operation of a new flood warning system – the largest of its kind in New Jersey – that includes sensors, cameras and flashing road signs to alert motorists of rising stormwater.
A new 24-hour web camera that livestreams images of the intersection of 40th Street and Central Avenue, one of the most flood-prone areas of the city, serves as another tool to warn residents about stormwater.
Kehner spearheaded a new ordinance this year that creates “no wake zones” in town to prevent motorists from speeding through flooded areas and creating waves of water that damage garage doors and other private property.
Desiderio pointed out that Sea Isle is the only municipality in New Jersey that has earned Class 3 status in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s community rating system for national flood insurance. That rating gives Sea Isle property owners a 35 percent discount on their flood insurance policies.
“We’ve proved that we want to be a leader in flood protection in New Jersey,” Desiderio said.