Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari, following a 43 year-long tenure in office, will not seek re-election and will retire after this year, the official said in a letter addressed to Shorebeat sent Thursday morning.
“I have decided to retire and devote more time to my family,” Vicari said in the letter, noting that his decision came “after much soul-searching.”
“I am forever thankful to the people of Ocean County, who have seen fit to return me to office time and time again since 1981,” he wrote. “Thanks to their enduring support, I will leave office as the longest serving Freeholder/Commissioner in the State of New Jersey. I have worked hard over these nearly five decades to serve the people of Ocean County. I have dedicated much of my life to improving the quality of life of our senior citizens and our younger families alike.”
Vicari has served in numerous posts during his career in public service, both elected and professional. Before serving as freeholder (then commissioner), he served as a member of the governing body of Dover Township (now Toms River), including a stint as the town’s mayor. He was a high school principal in Brick Township and a schools superintendent in Berkeley Township.
As commissioner, Vicari was a major proponent of expanding the Ocean County Vicational-Technical school district as well as seeking additional funding for Ocean County College, which has since evolved into full-on partnerships with other schools to create opportunities for students to achieve bachelor degrees locally.
Vicari also brought a new performing arts academy to OCC.
“I first came to public office in 1979, when I was elected to the Dover Township Committee,” Vicari wrote. “I held office there until 1994, during which time I was also privileged to serve five years as mayor. During my long tenure, I witnessed Dover Township become Toms River Township, and the Board ofChosen Freeholders morph into the Ocean County Board of Commissioners. What hasn’t changed is my commitment to bringing our residents the best possible services at the most affordable cost.”
Vicari would rarely allow a meeting of the board to pass without inquiring as to the status of senior-oriented programs in the county, and pushed for “no senior to go hungry,” becoming a driving force behind a pledge by the county government to dedicate millions of dollars into the largest “Meals on Wheels” and congregate meal operations for seniors in New Jersey.
“Like everyone else, I’ve seen my share of good times and bad,” he went on to say, marking the county’s most difficult times as the recovery from Superstorm Sandy and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our residents came through both disasters with resilience and fortitude,” he said. “I truly believe Ocean County emerged stronger.”
“As I said, the time has come for me to devote more time to my wife of 51 years, Joyce, my children and my two beautiful grandchildren,” he continued. “Anyone who volunteers for public service is often forced to divide their time between that service and their family. That’s a concession I’m no longer willing to make.”
Vicari ended his letter by thanking colleagues from both sides of the political aisle – especially those who were able to work out compromises and work through problems.
“No elected official can do it alone,” he said, also recognizing the contributions of the township and county’s professional staff. “Public service requires teamwork, compromise and a willingness to hear opposing opinions.”
“Rest assured that although I will not seek re-election, the people of Ocean County will always be in my thoughts and in my heart,” the letter ended. “It has been my privilege to serve you all.”