Two Democrats Challenge Two Republican Incumbents for Two  Committee Seats in Little Egg Harbor Township

Nov 01, 2017

Since there are no scheduled debates between the Democratic candidates for two seats on the Little Egg Harbor Committee and the two Republican incumbents, Great Bay Democratic Club President David Schlick provided statements from Steven J. Schaffer and Gustav Lauer. Incumbent Republicans Mayor Ray Gormley and Committeeman John Kehm were interviewed.

Steven J. Schaffer’s statement: “I have been a Little Egg Harbor resident since 2003 and homeowner since 2005. I am married to Cathy, who is a teacher at Pinelands Regional School District, and we have 2 children. I am currently in my 18th year teaching high school Latin, and my 14th year at Southern Regional School District in Manahawkin. I also serve as treasurer of the Southern Regional Education Association. My family and I are active members of St. Theresa Parish, where I lector and also train those who are interested in reading the Word at Masses. Every other year, I take students on educational trips to Italy and Greece. Since 2008, I have taken almost 200 students on six different trips.

“In 2014, I ran unsuccessfully for Pinelands School Board, losing by less than a percentage point. I am running for community-wide office again because I care deeply about Little Egg Harbor. I want our town and township committee to reflect the very best of its citizens; and I want my children to be as proud to grow up in Little Egg Harbor as I am to live here.”

Gustav Lauer’s statement: “I have been a Little Egg Harbor resident for 13 years. I have been married to my wife Gina for 13 years. We have a 12-year-old daughter who attends Pinelands Junior High School. I have been in the construction industry for 21 years and a general contractor for 16 years in the city of Manhattan. I love the people and community my family and I live in and wouldn’t change it for the world; this is the reason I choose to commute to work.

“I try and support this community in any way I can from donating to local fire departments or First Aid Squads. I feel any little bit will help benefit this community in a positive light.

“Let me be the first to say that I have no political experience but would work my hardest to fight for the residents of this town we call home. With that being said, there are many immediate things that I would like to address if elected – just like a majority of residents.

“First, I would like to expeditiously work with the Veterans of the community and solve the long-aged question of a Veteran’s Memorial – of where and when we could build this with Honor and Support for them to enjoy.

“Secondly, I would like to try and save these tax-paying residents some money by revisiting all outside contractors and their rates (and) by replacing or renegotiating their contracts in a cost-savings to the town.

“Thirdly, sit and review the dredging that needs to be done on Osborn Island and Mystic Island and make the correct decision expeditiously so an untapped market for tax revenue can be used to create an even keel affect (sic) on the community as a whole so everyone can benefit.

“Last but not least, I would like to see some transparency in the local government such as a televised and recorded meeting so other residents who are not able to attend can still be part (of) it and have their say. All Residents are this community and All Residents need to be heard – that is why I am running for Township Committee.”

The two Republican incumbents, Gormley and Kehm, have been on the committee for 12 years and are hoping for their fifth term. Gormley has served as mayor three times in the past and Kehm once. The committee form of government that Little Egg has adopted has a “weak” mayor who is chosen by the committee each January.

Ray Gormley is a hometown guy whose father, Jim, and mother, Helen, ran My Three Sons plant nursery and produce store in the Parkertown section of the township. Ray took over the business in 1983 and has added seafood and homemade pies. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I model myself after my dad, who was an elected official who served on the committee for nine years,” he said. “His most important advice was to always be accessible to the residents so they can get their questions answered.

“I remember people stopping by to see my dad in the store, and I model myself after that.”

Gormley said the most pressing concern this year that has taken the bulk of his time is the dredging issue. “It has consumed 90 percent of my time. It’s an obvious issue because people want to be able to enjoy the waterfront as they used to, rather than have to be beholden to the tides.

“And they are not seeing the return of fishing, clamming and crabbing. That’s not so much about dredging the lagoons as it is the inlet as the bay needs a clean, fresh flush of water so it doesn’t get stagnant.

“Here’s the sad part: When the man-made waterways were created in the ’60s and ’70s, (no one ever) had the vision to have dredge disposal sites for the future. Everyone wants dredging done, but no one wants the material in their backyard. Where to put it is the struggle.”

Gormley said a project to enhance and enlarge Mordecai Island in the bay two years ago used a mixture of dredge material and sand and was a success.

“We also need to have the correct composition of the material – a mix to make the perfect cake to put back to grow habitat. This is a key element to create the proper environment that we are working in now.

“Most residents don’t understand the economic impact the entire community derives from a healthy bay, whether they live on the waterfront or not. The crabbing and fishing brings people to the campgrounds, the bait and tackle shops, the restaurants, marinas, boat businesses. The economy thrives when everything works together.”

Gormley said residents in the upland sections of the township saw an increase in their assessments when the waterfront was devastated by Superstorm Sandy five years ago, but the township’s waterway communities are about 90 percent completed. “And prior to Sandy the houses were summer bungalows, where the land was a bigger assessment than the buildings. After Sandy, the land value has remained the same, but people have invested in new housing to give us a good ratable base, and we’re seeing the balance shifting back from the inland sections.”

Gormley said the committee is working on adding an ambulance to Great Bay Regional EMS in next year’s budget. The township recently joined a co-op based in the Houston/ Galveston area of Texas through which Stafford Township has been successful in appropriating new emergency vehicles.

Returning to the dredging issue, Gormley said by looking at the tide-line map of the bay, he could see how much land has been lost to erosion. “On average we’ve lost 30 percent of our marsh, and sea level rise plays a large role in that.

“Three of the five members of our governing body are experiencing it because they live on the lagoons. So our commitment is there to try and find the solution to the problem. And my business is in seafood, so that’s my livelihood.”

Kehm served as deputy mayor for 2008 and 2009, and as mayor in 2012 and 2013 when Superstorm Sandy rocked the town. He is an entrepreneur with a trucking business, has a security job and also buys and improves real estate.

He is a lifelong resident of Little Egg Harbor and has been a volunteer on Great Bay Regional EMS, also known as Squad 85, for over 10 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Masons.

He serves liaison to the Economic Development commission and Citizens on Patrol.

Kehm said Sandy was an obvious watershed event for the township and in some ways has brought the town forward. “We took our time in regulations about elevation; we stood our ground until Gov. Christie signed a bill determining the heights, and then we followed the state.

“The big thing now is the dredging (of lagoons). Myself and Ray have been working really hard. After Sandy recovery, that’s the next thing. It has to be done eventually. The biggest hurdle is finding the land to put the dredge spoils on. The N.J. DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) might be on to something.

“There are 4,000 homes on the waterfront, and everyone has to be a part of a plan where they pay a little bit into something like a utility bill for waterways upkeep. I don’t know yet what it’s going to cost, but it won’t be much to hurt the people on the waterfront.

“I don’t like the word tax,” said Kehm. “We had a slight decrease in taxes this year, and for the last five years we’ve kept taxes stable. We’re doing our job by cutting the fat out of the budget.

“We’ve got the leadership, the experience and the honesty,” said Kehm, speaking of his and Gormley’s campaign slogan, whose initial letters spell “LEH.”

— Pat Johnson


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