Mail-in ballots are the way to vote in the November election. By MADDY VITALEThe Ocean City municipal election is just days away. And with an unprecedented pandemic shifting everything to mail-in ballots, the candidates’ priorities and how they campaigned also changed.In a time where strict social distancing has to be adhered to in an effort to lessen the COVID-19 spread, the campaign messages were not through the traditional knocking on doors or the meet-and-greets at the local businesses.The five candidates offered their views on what they believe matters most to the residents in their specific wards. They each presented what they think matters most to residents in the shore community, at a time when the tourism industry and the economic landscape of the community are a concern amid the outbreak.In the only contested race in the May 12 election, incumbent Third Ward Councilman Tony Wilson is being challenged by Boardwalk businessman Jody Levchuk.Second Ward candidate Tom Rotondi is running unopposed for a seat vacated by former City Councilman Antwan McClellan, who went on to become a state Assemblyman for the First Legislative District.Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr and First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger are also running unopposed.The candidates agreed that they are going to have to find ways to reach out to the business community and provide relief to property owners in the wake of the coronavirus.Each of the candidates gave their top priorities if elected or re-elected to Council.They also highlighted what inspired them to get into politics and what aspects of their background they believe lends itself to being a good representative on Council.Here is what the candidates had to say in earlier interviews. Tony Wilson is running on his record.Tony Wilson, 50, a lifelong resident of Ocean City, and owner of owner of C. Leo Wilson Plumbing and Heating, is currently vice president of City Council.His slogan is your “Get it Done” guy.Those words ring true, Wilson, who has been on Council since 2011, said of his track record of success and no-nonsense style.“Ocean City has always been a spectacular place to live, work and visit. It always will be,” Wilson said. “But when I first took office, there was a lot that needed to be done,” he said.Wilson’s priorities for the next four years would be to continue working with the governing body on major capital projects including dredging back bays, repaving roads, and improving drainage, beach replenishment and maintaining the Boardwalk.Specifically, to the Third Ward are two important projects, he pointed out.There is a new pumping station project for the flood-prone area of the Third Ward. He would like to see the city acquire the entire city block in the Third Ward adjacent to the Ocean City Community Center, formerly the Perry-Egan Chevrolet dealership, to protect it from development.Council already has authorized the city to negotiate for its purchase or to take it by eminent domain.Wilson noted that while all of these projects should and will continue, the pandemic is the foremost concern for many people.Wilson, a father of two, said his business savvy lends itself to being a good Councilman who likes to help people.He recently partnered with Ocean City business owners in acquiring N95 masks and donating them to a local hospital.Wilson said city leaders have to reach out and help the community now, more than ever, provide relief. Council has taken two steps recently to help property owners who may be struggling. They passed two resolutions, one to lower the interest rate on late taxes above $1,500, and the other to extend the grace period for paying taxes.Wilson is a graduate of Ocean City High School and La Salle University. He wants to continue to be a part of the Council and be there for the Third Ward residents.He is an avid fisherman and has been active in fundraising for school and veterans events.Jody Levchuk is accompanied by his wife, Jill, and daughters, Jordyn, 5, and Leni, 7, while handing in his nominating petitions to City Clerk Melissa Rasner in early March before the pandemic restrictions.Jody Levchuk, 43, a married father of two, who co-owns Jilly’s Boardwalk shops in Ocean City, is running against Wilson for the Third Ward City Council seat.He wants to enter the political arena to represent the town he loves. “I believe in having a thriving town from the beach to the bay. I believe in the people of Ocean City. As a businessman, I am capable of understanding about capital planning and improvements to the city,” he said.While continued capital projects are important to create better infrastructure, dredging the back bays, replenishing beaches, and maintaining the Boardwalk are all top priorities for Levchuk, the pandemic is by far the most important issue at hand.As a businessman, he said he wants other merchants to survive the pandemic.“Reopening, restoring, and rebuilding are my goals. Superstorm Sandy was devastating to so many and, in many ways, COVID-19 has brought a whole other unprecedented wrath upon our city,” Levchuck said.“It has done so much damage. We have dozens of mom-and-pop shops, realtors, builders and barbers — businesses that fear going under,” Levchuk said. “I’m also really thinking about the out-of-work folks and the single families.”“I want them to grow up in the same safe, prosperous Ocean City that I grew up in. My wife and I spend a lot of time instilling community in the kids,” he noted.Levchuk said the future of the large piece of property next to the Ocean City Community Center should be discussed in an open forum.“It would be healthy to have town hall meetings virtually or using social distancing to discuss the future of the property,” he said.Over the past two months, Levchuk has reached out to his neighbors by phone to check in with them about their concerns. He has also utilized social media platforms to get his message out.“I believe if you are an elected official you need to be responsive,” he said. “You need to talk to and know your neighbors and understand what is important to them.”Levchuk is a graduate of the Seton Hall University Stillman School of Business. He is a board member with the New Jersey Amusement Association and is an active member of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association.While running the Jilly’s Boardwalk businesses, he also participates in community events and contributes to the Humane Society of Ocean City, the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Ocean City Parent Teacher Association.Ocean City 2nd Ward Council candidate Tom Rotondi hands in his nominating petition to City Clerk Melissa Rasner, while his wife, Stephanie, and son, Tommy, look on in March.Tom Rotondi, 41, a married father of three who is running unopposed for the Second Ward seat, may not have an opponent, but that is not stopping him from reaching out to voters to let them know who he is and what he is about.Rotondi pledged that, if elected to Council, he would work hard to keep Ocean City family-friendly and safe and hold down on spending for lower taxes.But in the midst of a pandemic, like other candidates, Rotondi said the concern is how to safely open the town once again for tourism.“We are a shore community and thrive on tourism. Together, both business leaders and the city administration, need to work to develop a plan using the data that has been collected to restart our economy safely for the summer,” he said.Rotondi brings a unique perspective with a versatile resume, he noted.He is a U.S. Army veteran and currently works with the Marsh and McLennan Agency, specializing in employee health and benefits consulting for non-profit, municipal and health care providers. Prior to that position he worked for the State Department of Corrections and before that as a Lower Township police officer.Elected officials also need to focus on smart growth when it comes to construction, he said.“We want to grow, but not at the expense of the city plan. I would like to see the fabric of Ocean City intact and not look like a bunch of cookie cutter buildings,” Rotondi said. “There are some historical portions of Ocean City that are so important to preserve.”Issues such as flooding have been mitigated well with the city’s projects, but there is more to be done, he said.Prior to the pandemic, he knocked on more than 500 doors to talk to people about the issues that matter to them, he explained.With the unique environment now, social distancing and closures, Rotondi utilizes text messages, emails, and social media platforms to get his message out.Rotondi is a current member of the Ocean City Zoning Board, which he was unanimously appointed to by City Council in 2016. He is also a volunteer coach with Ocean City tee ball and a Master Mason with Cape Island Lodge 30.He serves on multiple boards and is a volunteer with “Hand-to-Hand Mission to Haiti,” a non-profit organization that hand delivers solar lights, food, education supplies and tuition for the children in Haiti.Councilman Bob Barr submits his nominating petitions to City Clerk Melissa Rasner.Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr, 38, said even though he did not have a challenger, he still planned on knocking on doors and campaigning just as much as when he campaigned in 2016 and secured a win.“Last time I knocked on 3,500 doors and this time I planned on at least 1,000,” he said. “When this is over and it is safe, I hope to get a few Council members out in my neighborhood to join us.”But with the pandemic, it became clear that Barr would shift his campaigning to social media platforms and phone calls.He detailed some important things being done throughout the city. Roads and drainage projects continue to improve Ocean City’s infrastructure. But for now, at least, priorities have shifted to the fallout from COVID-19.“The main priority is properly opening the city at the right time, getting our economy back up and helping the businesses any way we can,” he said.He said thinking “outside of the box” is the way to do it.“This is not business as usual. People are going through unprecedented times,” Barr said. “This is a challenge of local leadership on how to help folks.”Barr, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said when the pandemic is over, he hopes to work once again along with Mayor Jay Gillian on making the entire community more accessible.He has provided a unique perspective for city leaders and over the last couple of years the city has installed longer mobility mats for the beach and is working on ways to improve the downtown for easier accessibility, he said.Barr holds Fourth Ward meetings on some Saturdays during the year to connect with residents.“I love year-round people. In this line of work or service, the only way to learn about what people want is by talking to them. I love getting people together,” he said. “We don’t always agree. That is what makes this country so great. Once conditions allow, we will have those meetings again. I love having them and I love hearing from people.”Incumbent First Ward Councilman Mike DeVlieger turns in his nominating petition to City Clerk Melissa Rasner.First Ward Councilman Mike DeVlieger, 53, is seeking his third term on the governing body.A summer resident of Ocean City for his entire childhood and early adulthood, DeVlieger has been a full-time resident for 21 years.He and his wife, Jennifer, a kindergarten teacher in town, are committed to public education, he said. The couple have two children, a son, Flynn, and a daughter, Reagan, who both attend school in Ocean City.“I’m very excited to run for my third term,” DeVlieger said. “I will continue to advocate for fiscal responsibility, holding the line on taxes, while maintaining our infrastructure.”“I am passionate about our city and investing in roads, beaches, bay dredging, flood control and the boardwalk,” he added.He said his top priorities are to protect the residents and guests in the safest environment possible.DeVlieger noted that amid the pandemic, now more than ever, it is important to shop locally.“We need to support our local business community as they try to recover,” he said. “We also need to keep Ocean City family friendly, while being financially prudent.”He said his experience lends itself to serving his community.“I worked for many of the local businesses while growing up; I have witnessed the changes over the years, both good and bad,” he said. “I have strong family values, a strong faith and a good education.”Some of his love of Ocean City comes from his childhood experiences vacationing in the resort with his nine siblings, he said.He wants to ensure that his family can continue to enjoy all that makes Ocean City special.“I want my children to experience much of what I have come to love about our community,” DeVlieger emphasized.During challenging times such as the pandemic, the Council members and other elected officials must reach out and help the community to make sure Ocean City can continue to be a family-friendly town for residents to enjoy and visitors to come back to year after year, he said.So, when it came to campaigning, he sat back a bit.“I have intentionally been low key regarding politics. Our community and our country are going through a very difficult time,” DeVlieger explained. “Instead, I have tried to focus my energy on trying to identify families and individuals who are needy and matching them with available resources. I’ve placed signs at the homes of individuals who have requested them, and I recently bought a banner ad to remind voters to mail in their ballots before May 12th.”DeVlieger has worked in Executive Search since 1991. He is graduate of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia.