Oceanport’s “Sharp-Shooting” Mayor
Oceanport residents will have a new leader in 2024. Mayor Jay Coffey is stepping down after a calming two terms. The only “Write-In Mayor” in borough history has held the top job since January 2016. Thomas J. Tvrdik, a Republican borough councilman, was elected the new mayor in November 2023.
Oceanport’s first mayor was Charles W. Billings. An early and eager advocate for borough independence, he won the first-ever town election held in June 1920 (just 76 ballots were cast that election versus about 2,500 voters in ’23) pledging to put Oceanport “on the map.” Originally part of Eatontown, Oceanport is one of several pleasant peninsulas touching the Shrewsbury River. Today’s borough includes about 2,500 acres and 6,100 residents. The borough’s first municipal budget was $11,200 in 1921; current municipal spending now reaches $13 million.
Native all the way, Billings was born in Eatontown in November 1866. C.W. (as he was known) was an amazing guy. He was captain of the first-ever Team USA trapshooting squad that won the “Gold Medal” (in the clay pigeons competition) during the 1912 Summer Olympic Games held in Stockholm, Sweden. In competitive trap-shooting disks (‘clay pigeons”) are launched from a machine away from the shooter who armed typically with a 12-gauge shotgun fires at the targets. A crack-shot himself, C.W. won numerous shooting titles and honors through the years.
Quite the Renaissance man, he was also an active ice boater, golfer and sailor. And a large Oceanport property owner. In August 1912, he purchased the 91-acre “West Farm” near Monmouth Park racetrack and built a large home on the property. The Monmouth Park Jockey Club acquired the Wolf Hill farm property in April 1954, paying then owner Joseph Valentino $180,000 for the 102-acre spread. Today much of the land is a Monmouth County park, the Wolf Hill Recreation Area. Even in death Billings had pith — while still mayor of Oceanport he suffered a deadly heart attack during a card game at Deal Country Club in December 1928.
Members of the borough’s first governing body in 1920 were inaugural council members: Harry Allen, Ferdinand Vreeland, Carl Phisterer, Benjamin Eldridge, Walter Clerk, and John Gaul. The borough had a total assessed value of $705,000 that year.
Mayors of Oceanport:
• Charles W. Billings (1920-1928)
• Theodore G. Rowe (1929-1932)
• Harry Whitney Conrow (1932-1940)
• Sidney J. Beers (1940-1948)
• C. Kenneth Riddle (1948-1950)
• Harry S. Koch, Jr. (1950-1951)
• Edward C. Wilson (1951-1968)
• Robert J. Jackson, Jr. (1968-1970)
• Franklin Ingram (1970-1972)
• Elwood L. Baxter (1972-1976)
• Clement V. Sommers (1976-1984)
• Thomas W. Cavanagh, Jr. (1984-1998)
• Gordon N. Gemma (1998-2004)
• Maria Gatta (2004-2005)
• Lucille Chaump (2005-2008)
• Michael J. Mahon (2008-2016)
• John J. “Jay” Coffey, Jr. (2016-2024)
(Prior 1971, Oceanport mayors were elected to 2-year terms of office, state law changed that to 4-year terms. Borough council members have always served 3-year terms.)