Election Examined: How the Ocean Beach Vote Went and Why

Election Inspector Diane Montes gathers the voting booths after the Ocean Beach Village polls officially closed.

It was a cool and drowsy post-Memorial Day Weekend Friday as voters passed under the black and purple bunting that still hang over the doorway to mark the recent passing of former Mayor Natalie Rogers to enter Ocean Beach Community House, which had been converted to a polling place on Friday, June 2. The election inspectors consisting of Village office staff and a few volunteer-residents were efficient and polite. Poll watchers, usually an energetic bunch during this process, sat quiet and still. In spite of the orderly appearance of things there was tension in the air. This has been a most unusual election for the Village of Ocean Beach as the shadow of last October’s scathing audit released by the New York State Comptroller’s Office played front and center as to how events unfolded to determine this evening’s final outcome.

There have been some uncomfortable moments over the past few months. The virtual Ocean Beach Association (OBA) Winter Meeting held March 14, the forum where potential candidates traditionally announce their intent to run for village board, was derailed by frustrated residents who felt questions were not answered to satisfaction. It climaxed at the May 20 Board of Trustees meeting where Ocean Beach Mayor Mallott called for the resignation of OBA President Maria Silsdorf, accusing her of “politicizing” the OBA, acting like a “sixth trustee,” and having a conflict as her husband, Ocean Beach Fire Chief Ian Levine was one of the candidates running for office – an incident so awkward that Trustee Christopher Norris felt the need to distance himself from it at the May 27 OBA Candidate’s Forum.

This was a difficult election to predict. Many village elections in recent memory had candidates running unopposed, but this one had five contenders running for two available positions. Incumbents often run together as a united force with endorsement by the Village mayor, but this did not appear to be as Trustee Norris and Deputy Mayor Matthew Blake seemed left on their own. Members of the Ocean Beach Fire Department tend to rally around their brothers and sisters who choose to run for elected office, but division was visible here too, weakening that network of support for longtime firefighters Blake and Levine. Even the swagger of the business community was tempered, making the candidacies of Restauranteur/Co-President of the Ocean Beach Chamber of Commerce Jennifer Moritz and local building contractor Robert Cernilli uncertain.

Yet in spite of all the turmoil in recent weeks, civility prevailed at the polling place, maybe people were just too tired for more drama.

Upon closing of the polls at 9 p.m., the 357 machine votes were tabulated with Moritz in the lead with 162 votes, Levine 132 votes, Cernilli 125 votes, Blake 112 votes, and Norris 88 votes. With 124 approved absentee ballots, every candidate still had a mathematical chance of turning the tide – and to some extent they did – 70 absentee ballots put Ian Levine in the lead with 202 votes at the end of the count. With 33 more votes, Jennifer Moritz still had enough to win the second seat with 195 votes. Thirty-three cast absentee votes for Robert Cernilli were not enough to pull him out of the third-place rank, but campaign lawn signs around the neighborhood indicate his message had resonated with many Ocean Beach residents. Blake (in office since 2011) and Norris (in office since 2015) picked up 26 and 48 more votes respectively, but it was not enough as both incumbents not only lost their seats, but came in at the bottom of the tally.

Some residents quietly confided that they believed Blake and Norris, decent men, paid a bitter price for that audit and the deficiencies it cited may not have been their fault. Yet as office holders, both had to campaign in this race with one hand tied behind their backs.

“This is an instance where ranked voting might have been helpful,” said longtime Ocean Beach resident Steve Himes. “Even the candidates who took the lead still only have a little more than 20% of the popular vote.”

Nevertheless, the two trustee-elects will be sworn into office on July 4, 2023, and the people of Ocean Beach have sent a message.