(Oct. 16, 2020) Amidst a pandemic, Councilman Tony DeLuca’s usual door-to-door campaign strategy will not be viable. That’s why this year, DeLuca is relying on his six-year record to convince constituents to reelect him once more.
Over the last six years, DeLuca said the biggest lesson he learned was that, unlike a business, it takes much more time for city government to solve issues and implement solutions.
“In business, when you make a decision it’s effective the next day or the next week,” DeLuca said. “The time process for government is just unbelievable.”
DeLuca obtained a bachelor of science degree in business at the University of Baltimore, and later obtained his master of business administration degree at Johns Hopkins University.
He went on to work for Yum! Brands-KFC as its franchise team coach for 46 years before retiring in 2008. He said that experience helped him develop his leadership and problem-solving skills.
Since his initial tenure in 2014, when he took over for Joe Mitrecic who left to become a county commissioner, DeLuca has made one promise to Ocean City residents — no raise in property taxes, period.
“My biggest strength is never voting for a tax increase,” DeLuca said. “If you look at the record, there’s only myself, and one other person who is not running this time, who can make that statement for property taxes.”
However, as many city officials have said, Ocean City’s expenses continue to grow at a rapid pace and new revenue streams will be needed.
One of DeLuca’s solutions is to raise the room tax by either .5 or 1 percent, which could generate an additional $1.6 million and $3.2 million, respectively.
Not only would this generate revenue, but also keep Ocean City at a lower rate than competitors.
For example, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties room taxes are 7 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively.
Aside from property taxes, DeLuca has focused the last six years on issues such as public safety and cleanliness, and he serves on the bike, green and transportation committees.
He mentioned the council’s recent decision to approve the hiring of 10 new full-time officers as one of his public safety efforts.
“I’m pushing hard for us to attack the hiring of more seasonal officers, public safety aides and reserves,” DeLuca said. “I think they can really set the pace on the Boardwalk for behavior.”
How these officers will be financed remains to be seen, and Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and Capt. Mike Colbert have stressed that it would be almost impossible to maintain the seasonal programs at current and past levels, which prompted the full-time officer request.
Another achievement DeLuca points to is his effort to improve bicycle safety and ridership in the resort.
This included directing bicycles off of Coastal Highway and into designated bike lanes, creating more bicycle paths through easement agreements and adding lights on bicycles.
Bicycle use in the resort is high, particularly with Ocean City’s seasonal influx of foreign student employees under the J-1 Visa program.
Since the program’s inception in 2018, the bike committee has put more than 1,000 lights on bikes.
Through its efforts, the committee received an honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists’ for its Bicycle Friendly Community award.
He hopes to achieve a bronze designation next year.
DeLuca also recalled his involvement in having a median fence installed along 13 blocks of Coastal Highway to deter jaywalking and prevent further deadly accidents.
The bike committee had been formed in 2012 in response to an uptick of pedestrian-vehicle collisions.
“I really pushed for the median and to light it up, the median and side streets,” DeLuca said. “To date, knock on wood, there hasn’t been one death since that thing has been up there.”
DeLuca also referenced his work as part of the Ocean City Green Team, which focuses on environmental efforts, particularly its Adopt Your Beach/Street program, through which volunteers collect litter in streets and on the beach, and the cigarette butt collection project.
He hopes to continue these efforts if he is reelected.
Where DeLuca sees himself fall short, “I like people to get to the point and not ramble,” he said. “Some of the detail and rambling is really frustrating.”
This year, DeLuca, as well as Councilman John Gehrig, will be challenged by four new faces: Frank Knight, who is married to departing Councilwoman Mary Knight, Peter Buas, Dan Hagan and Nicholas Eastman.
DeLuca said his experience in budgeting, strategic planning and other governmental responsibilities put him above the new contenders.
“Two years ago, four years ago, a couple of councilmen said they weren’t going to raise taxes and they did,” DeLuca said. “It’s easy for new people to come in and say, ‘Here is what I’m going to do,’ but I have a proven record.”
Nevertheless, two new faces will join the council, as Councilwoman Knight and Councilman Dennis Dare have elected to not run for reelection.
As for how he will fit in with the new council, “I think one of the biggest strengths of the council is the diversity,” DeLuca said. “If you look at the people on the council, there’s really no one on the council that thinks alike. I love the fact that everyone is an independent thinker and comes from different backgrounds. I look forward to looking at new ideas and new things coming on the council.”
In-person voting will take place on Nov. 3, at the Ocean City convention center on 40th Street from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free bus transportation to the convention center will be provided.