SINCE the Lake family founded Ocean City in 1879 there have been five forms of government. The Ocean City Association transacted all official business from 1879 to 1884. In 1884 the growing town was incorporated as a borough run by a mayor and four councilmen. Beginning in 1897 the resort operated under an act incorporating it as a city run by a mayor and six councilmen. In 1911, a commission form of government was adopted. Now voters would select three commissioners and one would be designated mayor. Since 1978 the City of Ocean City has been operated under the Mayor-Council form of government pursuant to the Faulkner Act.
This is a good time to remember the 22 men who have held the title of Mayor of Ocean City.
Gainer P. Moore (1884-1890)
Moore, Ocean City’s first mayor was born in Chester County, PA in 1834. He served honorably in the Civil War for the Union. He came to Ocean City in 1881 earning a living as a builder. Moore is credited with leading Ocean City’s first Decoration Day celebration (now known as Memorial Day). He led a small group of men marching along Asbury Avenue to commemorate America’s fallen soldiers.
James E. Pryor, MD (1890-1892)
Pryor graduated in 1888 from Detroit Medical College. He came to Ocean City in 1888 and quicklyestablished a successful medical practice.
Gainer P. Moore (1892-1894)
The 1892 Ocean City Guide Book reported, “He came to Ocean City in 1881, and has held the office of mayor since its incorporation, with the exceptions of one term. He is a progressive official, honored by all parties, and has served the city well.”
H. G. Steelman (1894-1895)
Steelman came to Ocean City in 1888 and opened a grocery store at 705 Asbury Avenue. The mayoral election of 1894 ended in a tie between Steelman and Robert Fisher. City Council chose Steelman to be mayor and he served for the first year of a two-year term. Fisher went to court to contest the choice, and was allowed to serve the remaining year, beginning on March 8, 1895.
Robert Fisher (1895-1896)
Fisher came to Ocean City in 1879 to survey the island for the Lakes. He served one year as mayor after the contested 1894 mayoral election. He was the city’s first real estate agent.
Gainer P. Moore (1896-1897)
Moore, according to an article in the Ocean City Sentinel, “Advanced and supported such projects and gave promise of success and the advancement of Ocean City’s interest in wealth, population and intelligence.”
Wesley C. Smith (1897-1901)
Smith, on April 13, 1897, was elected mayor under the new city charter. He was re-elected on April 11, 1899.
Joseph G. Champion (1901- 1907)
Champion came to Ocean City in 1890 and established himself as a builder and contractor. He was first elected mayor on November 5, 1901 and served three two-year terms.
Lewis M. Cresse (1907-1911)
Cresse, before being elected on November 5, 1907, was a state assemblyman and a state senator.
Harry Headley (1911-1915)
Headley, the first mayor under the commission form of government, came to Ocean City in 1893. He was a building contractor and realtor. His political career began in 1896 when he ran for and was elected to city council. He built the city’s first brick building in 1895 on the northwest corner of Asbury Avenue. He also built the city’s first ocean pier in 1899. While mayor, the first bridge to Somers Point was built, and City Hall was built.
Joseph G. Champion (1915-1931)
Champion returned to the mayor’s office in 1915. He was re-elected in 1919, 1923, 1927, but lost in 1931 to Harry Headley.
Harry Headley (1931-1935)
Headley returned to local politics in 1931 when, with John E. Trout and William H. Campbell, he was again elected commissioner. Trout and Campbell decided Headley should be mayor again. He was a prime mover in the effort to establish the Ocean City Free Public Library in the high school building.
Joseph G. Champion (1935- 1939)
Champion, George D. Richards and Henry Roeser Jr. were elected commissioners on May 14, 1935 and Champion was again mayor.
George D. Richards (1939-1943)
Richards first came into public life as police magistrate where he won acclaim for efficient handling of the police court. His law training was obtained at Washington and Lee University and the New Jersey Law School. He was a veteran of the World War. Richards, 49, died on May 17, 1943, the last day of his term, of grippe.
Clyde W. Struble (1943-1948)
Struble is credited with having first promoted the idea of county, state and federal governments sharing the cost of beach erosion control. He died, while in office, on December 3, 1948 after acute appendicitis attack.
Edward B. Bowker (1949-1959)
Bowker, a permanent resident since 1909, was in the real estate and insurance business. He was elected to city commission in 1939.
Nathaniel C. Smith (1959-1963)
Smith, along with D. Allen Stretch andB. Thomas Waldman, were elected to the citycommission on May 12, 1959. Before becomingmayor Smith was a state assemblyman and a statesenator.
B. Thomas Waldman (1963-1967)
Waldman, a public accountant, ran for re-election to city commission on May 14, 1963 and he received more votes than any of the other nine candidates. D. Allen Stretch was re-elected and Roy Gillian was the newcomer to the commission. Stretch and Gillian decided Waldman would be mayor.
Robert L. Sharp (1967-1971)
Sharp, a former city tax assessor, received the most votes at the May 9, 1967 commission election. David L. Simpson and R. Robinson Chance Jr. decided Sharp would be the next mayor.
B. Thomas Waldman (1971-1978)
Waldman received the most votes in the May 13, 1971 commission election. Robert E. Lewis and Luther L. Wallace chose him to be mayor again.
Chester J. Wimberg (1978-1982)
Wimberg, was the first to be elected under the Mayor-Council form of government. He was the owner-operator of Wimberg Funeral Home in Ocean City.
Jack Bittner (1982-1986)
Bittner, owner of the Sandaway Hotel on 8th Street, was a member of the Board of Education and the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Roy Gillian (1986-1990)
Gillian, owner of Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and Gillian’s Fun Deck, was a former city commissioner and a former member of the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Nickolas J. Trofa, Jr. (1990-1992)
Trofa brought 30 years of business experience to the mayor’s office. He served for eight years as a councilman before being elected mayor. Trofa, less than two years into his term, died on January 31, 1992 of a massive heart attack.
Richard Deaney (1992)
Deaney, Ocean City’s business administrator since 1989, was appointed mayor by the city council to serve until the May 12, 1992 election.
Henry “Bud” Knight (1992-2006)
Knight, a graduate of Rutgers University College of Pharmacy, was owner-operator of Knight’s Pharmacy. He was known as a pharmacist who would get up in the middle of the night to fill a prescription for a sick person.
Salvatore Perillo (2006-2010)
Perillo, a senior partner in the law firm of Perskie Nehmad & Perillo, helped organize and served asa spokesperson for the Ocean City Foundation for Educational Excellence.
Jay Gillian (2010-Present)
Gillian, who is running for his fourth term in office, was featured in a front page article in the March 16, 2022 Ocean City Sentinel under this headline, “State of the city stronger than ever.” Gillian cited his achievements, improvements in the past and his plans for the future. The article ended with a quote from Mayor Gillian: “We are fully prepared for another productive year for America’s Greatest Family Resort. We will make sure our city is clean, safe and family friendly. We share a common mission to make sure future generations can enjoy the town we all know and love.”
Find this story and more in the May issue of Ocean City Magazine