Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little will retire in 2021 after more than four decades of public service and 18 years as a county freeholder.
Little, of Surf City, announced at Wednesday’s board meeting that he will not seek re-election next year. The announcement took his fellow board members by surprise, and elicited a request from Freeholder Joseph Vicari that he reconsider, but Little said he had made up his mind and is retiring. He told his colleagues about his decision before the meeting and told the public a short time later.
“I’ve been in public service since 1968 since I walked into the Marine Corps barracks to sign up,” Little said, adding that he is planning trips in his new camper and plenty of pilgrimages to State College, Pa., home of his beloved Nittany Lions.
Jokes about Little’s notorious camper, which always seemed to break down in the most precarious of places in his many journeys, were common at board meeting. He recently replaced it, perhaps the first sign that a more leisurely life awaited.
“After all these years, I have a lot of changes that are underway in our family – all good – and I have to say this is the beginning of my sunset in public service,” he said. “This is not a goodbye. We have a year yet.”
Little has been a longtime luminary in Ocean County government. He has served as a member of the freeholder board since 2003 when he filled the unexpired term of the late Freeholder James J. Mancini. Over the past year, Little has worked tirelessly alongside the Ocean County Health Department to help manage the coronavirus pandemic and keep county residents informed on statistics and trends.
Perhaps appropriately, Little made the announcement during a nor’easter which dumped snow in some parts of the county. He has long served as liaison to the Ocean County Road Department, the largest county road system in New Jersey.
His public life began with a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and continued behind the scenes in politics before he became an elected official. Prior to his appointment to the freeholder board, he served as a commissioner on the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners from 1988 to 1991 during which time he served as police commissioner. He became a member of the Surf City borough council in 1995 after moving up Long Beach Boulevard, and has been a community leader there ever since. He served as board director in 2018 and, if history was any guide, would have likely been named director again in 2021 since his term would be coming to an end.
“I personally asked him to reconsider, and he said no, and I respect his opinion,” said Vicari, who has been serving with Little throughout his tenure.
“I followed your guidance continuously,” Vicari said, looking in Little’s direction. “I think the important thing is the diversity of thought on this board. I respect your future. You have a new camper, you have to do some traveling. You’re going to be missed.”
Freeholder Gary Quinn, the board’s newest member, was Little’s running mate after he was appointed to fill the seat of the late Freeholder John C. Bartlett. The campaign brought the two together.
“It came as a shock to me as well when you told me your plans,” Quinn, a former Lacey Township mayor, told Little. “As much as I’m sorry you’re leaving and will miss you tremendously, I’m thankful you’re going to be here for another year. Having you as my running mate and as a mentor has meant everything to me. I’m lucky to have had you by my side so far.”
Little served as chief of staff for the state’s 9th legislative district, which encompasses central and southern Ocean County, from 1984 until his retirement in 2003. It was in that role where he met his now-colleague Freeholder Virginia Haines, who was serving as a member of the state’s General Assembly in the 10th district, which covers the northern portion of the county.
“You’ve always been very, very dedicated to the position you’ve been in,” Haines told Little from the dais. “I see the dedication you give to your department and all of the departments in the county of Ocean. You’ve stepped up to make sure all of us are very informed on how we’re doing.”
Between the pandemic and Wednesday’s nor’easter, there were almost no members of the public at the meeting. But the sole speaker gave Little his compliments.
“I think I speak for a lot of citizens in saying we’re going to miss you very much,” said Sam Foster, of Brick Township. “You’ve always shown concern for the public and you’ve always been a real class act.”