- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

BELMAR, N.J. (AP) - Mayors of many Jersey shore towns hit hard by Superstorm Sandy are up for re-election on Tuesday.

And while the majority of them face no opposition to re-election, a handful of towns feature mayoral races in which the incumbent’s handling of Sandy recovery has been an issue in the campaign.

The Associated Press identified eight Sandy-impacted towns having mayoral elections this fall in which the incumbent was in office during the October 2012 storm, but only three will have contested elections: Belmar, Point Pleasant and Brigantine.

Three other Sandy-affected towns have already held their contested mayoral elections this year, returning incumbents to office in Long Branch, Ocean City and Barnegat Light.

In Belmar, the popular Monmouth County tourist town, recovery from Sandy has been an important issue in the campaign, in which Democrat Matt Doherty is challenged by Republican Councilman Jim Bean. The borough was the first Jersey shore town to rebuild its storm-wrecked boardwalk, starting in early January 2013 and finishing by the end of April 2013.

“We have had a great recovery from Sandy,” Doherty said. “We had a tremendous amount of flooding, 1,300 basements needed to be pumped out, and all that debris that had to be removed. But we got it down in a matter of weeks so people wouldn’t have to sit in the mess that Sandy had left them.”

But not everything went smoothly. Doherty’s plan to rebuild two storm-wrecked pavilions on the boardwalk drew significant opposition, and residents in a public referendum rejected them as too elaborate and costly. The mayor says the town is soliciting new suggestions from residents on whether to rebuild the structures and how to do it.

Bean declined to be interviewed for this article. But in a letter to voters, he criticized Doherty for pushing the pavilion plan at the expense of fixing longstanding flooding problems involving a lake near the oceanfront.

“While Mayor Doherty wanted to spend millions of dollars on fancy pavilions with roof top golf, public baths and a second story banquet hall, he resisted bonding the money needed to fix the Silver Lake outflow problem,” he wrote. “He wanted to wait and see if he could get some federal funding, which ultimately never came.”

Point Pleasant, nestled between the Manasquan and the Metedeconk rivers, experienced flooding during the storm that affected about 1,000 of the borough’s 8,000 homes, Mayor William Schroeder said.

Yet the Democratic mayor said he chose not to make his leadership on storm recovery an issue in the campaign, in which he is being challenged by Republican Councilman Robert Sabosik.

“It’s almost like bragging about something good that you did,” Schroeder said. “You just do your job.”

Sabosik noted the council approved overtime pay for construction department employees to work Saturday nights to meet with flooded out residents and process rebuilding permits. He said he would have held regular nighttime office hours so residents could speak directly with their mayor in the storm’s aftermath.

Brigantine, a beach town next to Atlantic City, is where Sandy made landfall. Republican Mayor Phil Guenther has included his efforts to respond to the storm in his campaign material, noting that he “led Sandy relief and recovery efforts” including helping to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to revise flood maps that ultimately removed 2,000 homes from zones considered to be most at risk from future storms, and thus the most costly in terms of flood insurance.

His challenger, Democratic Councilwoman Lisa McClay, has focused on financial and ethical criticism of the mayor and his ticket in her campaign material.

Mantoloking, where all 521 homes were either damaged or destroyed by Sandy, is one of the storm-hit towns returning its mayor to office without a challenger.

“For the past two years we’ve been focused almost solely on the huge task of rebuilding from the storm,” Mayor George Nebel said. “People seem to feel continuity is important. And I agree with them.”

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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