South Bethany to take to the polls Saturday

There is no question: in 2006 a new councilman will join the South Bethany Town Council. Councilman Bob Cestone opted not to run for re-election this year, leaving his seat open for challengers to vie over this Saturday, May 27.

There were two takers, in addition to the other two council members who did choose to run for re-election. So South Bethany’s citizens will have four options to choose from in filling the three open seats.

The incumbents

Mayor Pro Tem Marge Gassinger is seeking re-election to her seat this year. Gassinger missed the traditional “candidates’ night” at the council session before the election, due to illness, but the councilwoman has a solid record of performance under her belt on her current three-year term on the council.

She spearheaded the council’s exploration of a new town hall and police station and recently noted that the project was at the stage of awaiting permit approvals from state agencies before it moved forward, after a solid approval by voters last year of the estimated $970,000 expense for the project.

Gassinger was also present in nearby Bethany Beach in recent weeks, as Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle visited the beach towns to discuss the need for a major replenishment. Gassinger has voiced firm support for the project and efforts to gain federal and state funding for it.

The former mayor, who served a single year on council before her seven-year term as the town’s head official, also noted her successful work to acquire beach parking rights for those living west of Coastal Highway.

Where Gassinger is clearly a veteran of South Bethany governance, Councilman John Fields even after two years on the council was quick to cast himself as a voice from outside, someone willing to offer a contrarian view when it is needed by the group.

Fields has led the charge on a number of the town’s ordinance changes in his first term on the council. He’s overseen the planning commission’s work on developing a comprehensive development plan, and most recently, shepherded proposed parking ordinance changes through stage after stage of revision.

Those ordinance changes were passed into law at the council’s May meeting, going into effect mostly for the summer of 2007 and beyond.

It fit with Fields’ statement of overall intent for the town and his term on council: making South Bethany a better place to live.

Two new faces

Fields was quick with praise for the two residents offering themselves up for election in 2006, calling it a hopeful sign to find newcomers willing to get involved in the often-daunting task of helping to run the town.

Indeed, Chris White and John Rubinsohn are newer residents of South Bethany, having moved there permanently in recent years, with young families and careers at least a few years yet from retirement. It’s a new wave in South Bethany politics.

For his part, White, while new as a resident, cites a long history in South Bethany, on his wife’s side of the family. “My wife, and three generations before her, grew up here,” he said.

The marketing executive for the Rehoboth Beach YMCA places his focus on emergency preparedness, particularly addressing how well the town might be in the case of a pandemic, such as the avian flu. Community education was stressed. He also has noted an emphasis he would place on environmental issues, including beach replenishment.

Those issues also include the town’s support for canal dredging, which White said he hoped to smooth through dialogue with the opposing Sierra Club.

Rubinsohn, with a background in business administration, put his focus on the town’s fiscal health, noting the increasing number of year-round residents and ever-increasing expenses. His work with health-care and special-needs children, he said, had given him ample experience in the area of grant funding — something he hopes to be able to put to use in securing funds for South Bethany projects.

On the personal side, Rubinsohn emphasized his love for the quiet beach community — a town he chose to settle down in after some 18 years of visiting the area, in Rehoboth Beach. Preserving that ambiance would be key for him.

Voters to decide on Saturday

Newcomer or veteran, working man or retiree, citizens of Bethany Beach on Saturday will have the chance to select three of the four candidates to fill council seats for the new term. Balloting in the South Bethany council election will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the town hall on Saturday, May 27. Absentee ballots — available at town hall — must be returned prior to the end of voting on Saturday.