Bill Henfey looks back at 20 years in office

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Photo by Christie Rotondo/Mayor Bill Henfey, left, will step down as mayor at the end of the year. Patrick Rosenello, right, is North Wildwood’s mayor elect and will be sworn in Jan. 7. Photo by Christie Rotondo/Mayor Bill Henfey, left, will step down as mayor at the end of the year. Patrick Rosenello, right, is North Wildwood’s mayor elect and will be sworn in Jan. 7. ‘Bittersweet’ retirement 

NORTH WILDWOOD—When Bill Henfey first became mayor in 2006, North Wildwood was celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Now, he’s set to retire after 20 years in municipal office, 12 years as a member of city council, and eight as North Wildwood’s mayor.

On Dec. 12, Henfey sat in a conference room at city hall with council president and mayor-elect Patrick Rosenello. Henfey had on his characteristic smile, especially when he talked about being able to spend more time with his “grandbabies.” But, there are bittersweet moments too, as he recalled a lengthy and successful career spent improving North Wildwood, now coming to completion.

“Change is a good thing sometimes,” he says of his upcoming retirement. “It just needs to get shook up. Sometimes you just need to shake things up and keep things moving forward.”

As mayor, Henfey focused on the city’s infrastructure, and says he came in at a time when the city’s economy was in decline, looking to make a change.

“It was obvious that things needed changing, and I wanted to be part of that change,” Henfey said. “I wanted to be part of the positive growth for North Wildwood.”

His term followed Aldo Palumbo’s, a mayor whom Henfey said wanted to make North Wildwood the “parade capitol of the world.”

“He took on the parade and the feel-good part, and I went more for the nuts and bolts,” Henfey said.

Completing extensive infrastructure projects, like roadway reconstruction and beach replenishment, were major aspects of his career. The city’s seawall reconstruction and repairs to the boardwalk, the hockey rink, the community center, and City Hall occurred while Henfey was mayor. In fact, public works has completed over 75 projects since he took office in 2006.

Taking care of the little things, he said, was a major part of his political philosophy. Making sure properties are maintained and petty crime is looked after are aspects of municipal government he championed. He also pushed to shrink North Wildwood’s government and keep its taxes low by merging departments and cutting back on municipal employees.

“I’m a big believer in if you take care of the small things, there’s less of a chance for the big things to happen,” he said.

Rosenello, who has been on city council for the past 10 years, will be sworn in Jan. 7 as North Wildwood’s new mayor. He says that he has also adopted Henfey’s philosophy to keep small issues in check before they turn into larger problems.

“If you try to hit grand slam every time you’re at bat, you end up striking out,” Rosenello said.

Rosenello said his will continue certain projects that need to be finished, but also improve existing parks and recreation around the city, while adding additional recreation space.

For example, improvements to the Eighth Street Field will happen during his tenure. He says the city is also planning to possibly creating a park on the bayside between Second and Fourth avenues.

The Lou Booth Amphitheater will need improvements soon too, Rosenello said. The back bays, a major access point for boaters and water recreation, will also need to be dredged out in the coming years, he said.

“It’s a huge part of our economy, it’s a huge part of our quality of life, and it’s something that we have to fix,” Rosenello said.

Rosenello is a local business owner, and oversees both the Special Boardwalk Improvement District and Downtown Business Improvement District in Wildwood. But, he says he’s prepared to take on the added challenge of mayor.

“Coming into it, I knew what I was getting into,” he said.

Henfey also has no doubts about that.

‘Patrick and I have worked so closely together, he has all the tools he needs to do an outstanding job,” he said.

Henfey, who is 64, (64 and a half, he’ll tell you) plans to spend his retirement taking time with his family and grandchildren. He also wants to focus on getting his health in check, after falling ill and having an extensive hospital stay earlier this fall.

“I’m going to be 65 years old and my son and I have a boat that we never get to use, that we need to start using, and I want to start enjoying my grandbabies more,” he said. “I’m going to take it one day at a time.”

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