Carolyn Cassidy supporters wave flags at the intersection of Beachway Drive and A1A on the morning of March 14. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Joe Capozzi
Newcomer Carolyn Cassidy and incumbent Martin Wiescholek won seats on the Ocean Ridge Town Commission on March 14, capping a bitter election that changes the power dynamics at the top level of town leadership.
Mayor Susan Hurlburt finished third and, as a result, will leave office when Cassidy and Wiescholek are sworn in for three-year terms at the next Town Commission meeting April 3.
“I'm so thrilled. I'm so excited that Ocean Ridge has spoken so loudly and clearly that they trust me with their vote, and that just means the world to me,’’ Cassidy said at her house where happy supporters cheered the results.
The top two vote-getters in the three-way race won seats, with Cassidy the overwhelming top choice, taking 531 votes, or 50.4%. Wiescholek got 276 votes, or 26.2%. Hurlburt finished third with 247 votes, or 23.4%.
“People want change. People want things to be back to this wonderful little seaside village that we all love,’’ Cassidy said. “This is just a cry for, ‘Let's do it. Let’s do it together.’ I'm excited to work with this commission as a whole and let’s get to work.’’
Cassidy, a member of the town’s advisory Board of Adjustment, was endorsed by Commissioners Steve Coz and Geoff Pugh, a pair that often voted on the losing ends of decisions dominated by Hurlburt, Wiescholek and Vice Mayor Kristine de Haseth.
Cassidy ran for commission in 2021 and finished third by 16 votes to runner-up de Haseth in a four-way race for two seats. Pugh finished first and endorsed Cassidy in that race.
In the latest campaign, her supporters held signs urging voters to cast ballots for only Cassidy, even though two seats were up for election, an apparent attempt to water down the vote totals of Wiescholek and Hurlburt, who campaigned together.
Wiescholek said he was happy to be re-elected but disappointed Hurlburt was not. “It's a huge blow. I hope that it's not going to negatively impact the town down the road. Congratulations to Carolyn. The town has spoken. The town has given its voice in a fair election and we are going to move on.’’
The arrival of Cassidy potentially creates a new majority with Coz and Pugh, putting de Haseth and Wiescholek in a new minority voting bloc.
Cassidy, a loyal attendee of Town Commission meetings, has voiced concerns shared by Coz and Pugh about several issues, including private property rights, more interaction at commission meetings between residents and elected officials, and what they view as a lack of efficiency in the building department.
Before Election Day, and after Cassidy voiced her intentions to run, three top officials left Ocean Ridge: Town Manager Tracey Stevens (last fall), Police Chief Richard Jones (who announced plans to leave Feb. 10) and Building Official Durrani Guy who resigned Monday (March 13).
None of those former officials publicly cited the election as their reasons for leaving. But Wiescholek, a vocal supporter of the building department, is among those in town who believe the timing of the three departures is not a coincidence.
“I’m really hopeful that my fears will not come to fruition and we can have a community that is up to certain standards and protected,’’ said Wiescholek, who has served on the commission since 2020.
Repeating a pledge he made when his campaign started, he said this will be his last term and he will not seek a third term, the maximum allowed under the town charter.
Cassidy’s arrival has the potential to overturn some recent moves by the commission, including a 3-2 vote in February to withdraw a January vote that had given interim Town Manager Lynne Ladner the full-time job.
Another decision that could be overturned is the commission’s March 6 endorsement, by 3-1 vote (Pugh was absent), to consider an ordinance requiring a supermajority vote (four commissioners instead of three) on changes to the Floor Area Ratio and other rules dictating the appearance of town property and, by extension, the character of the town.
Wiescholek proposed the idea, but Coz voted no because he said “supermajority removes the word ‘democracy’ from the equation.’’ At a candidates forum in February, Cassidy shot down the idea of a supermajority: “Advocating for it suggests you don't have faith in your elected officials,’’ she said.
Hurlburt, who served on the commission since 2019, said she was looking forward to enjoying life outside of politics.
“I am thrilled,’’ she said of the results, “because if it wasn’t going to be Martin and I together, then I am glad he won. He’s honest and he has good character. You cannot manipulate him.’’
Hurlburt declined to comment on Cassidy’s win.
“I wish them all the best of luck,’’ she said. “What I'll miss most is the support of staff and residents who wanted to work for the betterment of the town, but I will not miss politics over government. The tone of this town has gotten very negative, and that's not me.’’
The residents have spoken - and quite loudly - in support of Carolyn Cassidy. Carolyn represents the type of leader we want in our town - fully engaged with residents both listening and responding to our concerns, educated and experienced with regards to infrastructure and building codes, and able to work well with everyone to make progress on protecting our town and our way of life. I would like to thank Susan Hurburt for her service and urge Martin Wiescholek to listen to the residents via their vote regarding the kind of commission we want, and work together as a commission for the betterment of our lovely seaside town.
I would like to thank Susan Hurburt for her 4 years of service to the community and of course the many years of community service she has given before that.. She is a champion for Ocean Ridge and has always looked at the bigger picture of the issues. Trying to see both sides of an argument and making the best, reasonable decision. We may not always agree or have voted the same but I always knew she had thought long and hard about anything before she made a decision.
Susan has had great forward, long-term thinking and taking the environment into account, preserving the very space we live in. Her calm presence will be missed on the dais and we can only hope she will continue to have input into our common goal in making this town better and preserving the great things we have and share.
Individual property rights do not out way those of the community as a whole. She understood that and found balance between the two.
Thank you again Susan for the countless hours you have given to this town.