The 2020 Ocean City Council election is beginning to heat up. With six candidates and just four seats, the contenders are making their case to residents. Amidst a hectic year dominated by a pandemic and alarming violence, Councilman John Gehrig promises to push bold and transformative solutions.
November 3 is approaching quickly, and Ocean City voters have important decisions to make. 2020 has not been an easy year for anyone in the town. From a total shutdown in March and April, to a tough summer for businesses, and violence in September, it has been a time like no other. Councilman John Gehrig believes that it is time to unite and stand up for the town.
First elected in 2016, he promised to bring a different voice and style to City Hall. With more than two decades of experience in the private sector and a tenure as President of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, Gehrig provides a voice for businesses. He’s also known for his spirited debates with fellow members of the council and sometimes fiery comments, but it seems to have played well with his constituents.
If his support remains as strong as it did four years ago when he garnered support from more than 80% of voters, he should be on track for another victory. However, he is less concerned about the campaign and more worried about the future of the town. Gehrig emphasizes that the problems we are facing are not new, but they are reaching a fever pitch, all at the same time.
“We have to be honest with ourselves”
The last weekend in September presented yet another challenge for residents and especially for the Ocean City Police Department. The pop-up rally, which is supposed to be for car enthusiasts, turned into unrest and violence. Over four days, the OCPD arrested 277 people. Councilman Gehrig is prepared to take major actions to prevent more groups from wreaking havoc on Ocean City in the future.
“Frankly, for the last ten years, we haven’t done enough. The challenges that face the city didn’t happen overnight. This slow drip has been happening for a while, but it’s all just a crisis that’s been mounting,” he said. “We can’t just hope our way through this. We’ve been in denial for a long time. Our leaders have been paralyzed.”
Gehrig recognizes that progress has been made with special event zones and calling in other police agencies, but he makes clear that the unruly visitors need to get the message. “They can’t just come here and run around free, disrespecting our town,” Gehrig added.
While Gehrig would not share his specific plans for combatting the disrespectful crowds, he said that many of his ideas are centered around economic development. “We need bold solutions, and I have some. I’m reluctant to make them public because you don’t want your opponents to know your plan,” Gehrig explained.
Pushing Back Against Negativity
With all the problems facing our resort town, it is even more difficult to promote local tourism. Despite declines in occupancy over the summer, due to Covid-19, plenty of visitors still packed the town. Gehrig wants to do everything possible to reassure potential customers.
“We need to show people that we are working on it. The actions we take aren’t always going to be 100% supported, but if the public sees we are trying, that will help,” he said. “We live in this unbelievable place, and none of my residents deserve any of this. They didn’t sign up for any of this. We can’t just react to problems; we have to solve them.”
Referencing the recent profane sign protesting the actions of Governor Larry Hogan, the 2017 topless case, loud and explicit music, and an increase in marijuana smoking, Gehrig stressed the importance of pushing back and maintaining a family atmosphere.
Why Gehrig Chose Not to Run for Mayor
After receiving such overwhelming support in the last election cycle, many locals are wondering why Gehrig is not on the ballot for a different office. He says he is still asking himself the same question.
“It’s been a game of ping pong. I’ve been thinking since Christmas, and I was sure I was going to run for mayor. I kept putting off the decision. Hundreds of people asked me to run, and I felt like I was letting people down by not running,” Gehrig said. “However, the reality is this: my kids are 12 and 10, and we go on vacation in June for a lengthy period. It’s our favorite thing to do, it’s tradition, I’m not willing to give that up. Everyone who has had kids understands what I mean. I had to recognize that the leader of the town can’t be on vacation during the most challenging time of year. I wasn’t going to run for the personal pride or the title.”
Even though Gehrig passed on the opportunity to run, he does not believe that the election should feature just one candidate. “I think we deserve an election there. Mayor Meehan has largely been unopposed for his entire tenure,” he said. “It’s not because Rick and I don’t get along, we do. It’s just that our system is supposed to give people a choice. We agree and disagree, and it’s good. It’s what we need in government, business, and life.”
In the last five elections, Meehan has had a challenger only once. This year, he is once again cruising toward reelection. Meehan took office in 2006 and served on the council for two decades prior.
This election season, officials at every level of government are facing questions over their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Gehrig maintains that the town took the right steps to keep people safe.
“History can be your guide on how to do things, but that’s not the case here. March and April were desperation time. A lot of people wanted us to shut down, and we did,” Gehrig said.
One of the biggest debates of the summer surrounded the wearing of masks on the Boardwalk. Following the announcement of Governor Hogan’s order requiring masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible, Mayor Meehan said he wanted to expand the mandate. While Gehrig voted against the proposed ordinance, which eventually turned into a mayoral proclamation, he is most proud of the spirited and thoughtful debate facilitated by members of the council.
“We had a spirited debate, and it was one of the better group functions we have had. The mayor and council did a good job, and so did the governor, but I was critical because we needed to be clear about enforcement. It put our police officers in a tough spot,” he said. “My problem is that when we added the mandate for the Boardwalk, we went from 0 to 100 overnight. The governor’s order was fine, and it was ok to have an extra layer of protection for the summer. Now, we certainly don’t need the mask mandate at 8 a.m. in October.” The requirement expired on September 30.
Gehrig’s Vision for Ocean City
“We don’t have ten years. We need to stand up because we are in crisis mode. People cannot continue to disrespect our town. We are all on one team. Let’s support law enforcement, public works, and other employees. We must support our business community with a strong economic plan that brings customers here. We need creative thinking and have to be courageous to act. Protect this house!”
Election Day is November 3
Be sure to cast your ballots this November! The universal registration deadline is October 13, and the Ocean City deadline is October 16.
For local election information, click here.