From left, Council candidates John “Tony P” Polcini, Karen Bergman and Pete Madden stand in front of an ice cream truck brought in for their campaign kickoff at the Ocean City Sports & Civic Center.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

The children were getting glitter tattoos, playing basketball, munching on pizza and slurping their ice cream cones.

The adults were eating pizza and ice cream, too, but they were also talking politics.

It all seemed like a perfectly typical day on the Boardwalk, but the family-friendly event that unfolded at the Ocean City Sports & Civic Center on Sunday was actually a campaign kickoff for three candidates for City Council.

Calling themselves “The Big 3,” Council incumbents Karen Bergman and Pete Madden and running mate John “Tony P” Polcini invited the public to a casual get-together that doubled as a rallies/" 1014 target="_blank">political rally pointing toward the May 10 municipal election.

More than 100 people showed up to chat with the candidates, eat pizza, shoot hoops and watch kids get glitter tattoos at an arts and crafts table set up inside the Sports & Civic Center. An ice cream truck was parked outside. The entertainment and food were free for the attendees.

The event underscored all three candidates’ intention to emphasize a family values campaign theme in a town that proudly bills itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

“It embodies what Ocean City is all about – people hanging out and enjoying each other’s company as families. We’re trying to embrace that,” Madden said in an interview.

Karen Bergman and Pete Madden, at right, speak with Ocean City residents Jess Gorman, in cap, and Keith Gesler.

Keith Gesler, one local resident who attended Sunday’s event, said he is backing Bergman, Madden and Polcini because of their family-friendly campaign.

“This is a family town. They all support the family values that I support,” said Gesler, who has lived in Ocean City since 1981.

Three at-large Council seats are up for grabs in the election. Bergman and Madden are seeking their third, four-year term, while Polcini is making his first foray into elected politics.

Bergman said all three will turn in their nominating petitions to the City Clerk’s Office on Monday.

Among their supporters, they have the backing of Mayor Jay Gillian, who attended the campaign kickoff for Bergman, Madden and Polcini amid his own bid for re-election.

“I’m supporting them because they’re for the taxpayers,” Gillian said. “They’re not about politics. They’re truly for Ocean City taxpayers. We work well together.”

Mayor Jay Gillian, left, poses for a group photo with Madden, Bergman and Polcini.

Other candidates also have their eye on the three open at-large seats. Former First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger has already turned in his nominating petitions to run in the at-large race.

Second Ward Councilman Tom Rotondi has taken out petitions for the at-large race, as has local environmental advocate Donna Moore, who unsuccessfully ran for the First Ward seat in the November election.

There are four ward seats on City Council. No ward seats are up for election this year.

Bergman, 60, who is the director of catering for the Flanders Hotel, is the only woman on the seven-member governing body.

“I consider myself to be an independent, female voice on Council,” she said. “I pride myself on my integrity, transparency and accessibility.”

She also said she will continue to bring “a common-sense approach” to local government.

Madden, 44, co-owner of Goldcoast Sotheby’s International Realty, told supporters that he intends to “put the community first” while continuing to promote critical infrastructure projects such as road construction, flood-mitigation improvements and the dredging of the back bays.

“Vote The Big 3” refrigerator magnets promote the candidates.

Polcini, 51, is a lifelong Ocean City resident who is well known as the owner of the former Tony P’s House of Pie pizzeria on the Boardwalk. The pizzeria closed in 2019, but Polcini continues to use the “Tony P” nickname.

Most recently, Polcini worked as a patient advocate at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, but is taking a new job as a salesman for a paper supply company in Vineland.

In an interview, Polcini emphasized his Ocean City roots, including his tutelage under Frank and Kay Manco of Manco & Manco Pizza fame while learning the pizzeria business.

“They taught me that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded. Those are values that are still instilled in me,” he said.

First and foremost, Polcini credited his father, Dominick Polcini, with teaching him the importance of having a strong work ethic.

While campaigning with Bergman and Madden as a member of the “Big 3,” Polcini is shooting for the at-large Council seat currently held by Keith Hartzell.

Hartzell has announced that he will challenge Gillian in the mayoral election. He will give up his at-large Council seat to run in the mayor’s race.

Candidates must submit their nominating petitions to the City Clerk’s Office by March 7 to get their names placed on the ballot for the nonpartisan May 10 election.

Children get glitter tattoos at the family-friendly political get-together.
The crowd sits down to eat pizza and ice cream.
Boxes of pizza line the tables.

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