John Divney, second from right, wished his colleagues on City Council the best of luck during his final meeting.

By Donald Wittkowski

Sea Isle City bade goodbye Tuesday to a veteran councilman, but welcomed a new “mayor” who immediately charmed the audience members by greeting them in a squeaky little voice.

John Divney, 76, who had served on City Council for the past 10 years, attended his last meeting Tuesday. He decided not to seek re-election in May and will be replaced on the five-member governing body by Councilman-elect J.B. Feeley when Council holds its annual reorganization meeting on Saturday.

At his request, no fanfare accompanied Divney’s departure. He spoke only briefly near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, noting that he had been fortunate to serve on Council for 10 years.

“We have had many challenges and opportunities together. I wish the Council good luck,” Divney said, while also extending best wishes to Feeley.

Council President William Kehner responded to Divney’s remarks by telling him he was an influential figure in the city’s growth over the years.

“You were a key part of creating it. We appreciate that,” Kehner said.

In an interview after the meeting, Divney said he plans to enjoy his retirement from politics, but vowed to stay active in the community.

Divney was one of the five original Council members who were elected in 2007 when Sea Isle changed from its old commission-style form of government to a Mayor-Council format. Council members serve four-year terms and are chosen at-large in the nonpartisan election.

In looking back on his 10 years in office, Divney said during an interview in February that he believed City Council’s biggest accomplishment during that time was working with Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s administration to modernize Sea Isle’s formerly antiquated water and sewer system.

Another major achievement was the transformation of the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entrance into town into a more inviting gateway, including the development of Excursion Park, the hub for the city’s family-friendly entertainment events, he said.

Samantha Morris, 7, who played mayor for the day, was chaperoned around City Hall by Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio, left, and her father, Bob Morris.

Although Divney is leaving government, a possible politician of the future made her splashy public debut on Tuesday to the salutations of “madam mayor.”

Samantha Morris, a pint-sized, 7-year-old, played the role of Sea Isle’s acting mayor for the day as part of a raffle contest at her school, Bishop McHugh Regional Catholic School in Cape May Court House.

She followed her real-life counterpart, Mayor Desiderio, around City Hall and was even given some semi-official government duties, including presiding over the city’s annual bicycle auction.

Desiderio introduced her at the Council meeting as “Mayor Morris.” When Desiderio asked Samantha if she had anything to say, she simply told the audience, “Hi.” Everyone broke into applause after hearing her adorable, child’s voice.

By the end of the meeting, Samantha seemed to grow more confident in her mayoral duties. She was given the official honor of adjourning the session.

“Madam Mayor, would you like to close the meeting for us?” Kehner asked her.

With that, she responded, “Meeting adjourned. On to the bike sale.” The audience cheered and applauded again.

Samantha’s father, Bob Morris, was one of the developers of the upscale Dunes restaurant and condominium complex in the Townsends Inlet section last year. He and his business partner, Christopher Glancey, are currently developing other projects in Townsends Inlet that combine retail, residential and restaurant space.

Morris explained that his family donated $900 to win a raffle at the Bishop McHugh school that allowed his daughter to play mayor for the day. The donation benefited the school.

Morris joined Desiderio when Samantha was being chaperoned around City Hall and appeared at the Council meeting.

“It’s been great,” Morris said. “Everyone has been really courteous to us.”

Samantha, who will enter second grade at Bishop McHugh in the fall, already seems to have political aspirations now that she’s gotten a taste of what it is like to be mayor.

When asked if politics is in her future, she replied, “Maybe.”

Her father just laughed.