By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
OCEAN CITY â€“ There was not a moment that Ocean City councilman Antwan McClellan spent idle last Saturday (June 15) at the high school he graduate from where the community came together for its annual Juneteenth celebration.
Modest but outgoing, McClellan, 44, drew an audience wherever he went in the crowded cafeteria adjacent to Ocean City High School at the event up on by the Ocean City Juneteenth Celebration Organization. The event celebrated the accomplishments of the local African-American community.
McClellan, the lone black on Ocean City’s city council, is now on his way to a history-making run of his own. He and running partner Erik Simonsen, are running for the two seats up for the New Jersey General Assembly District 1, which represents Cape May County and portions of Cumberland and Atlantic counties.
If elected, he will become the first African-American ever to represent Cape May County in the state legislature and the highest-ranking black Republicans in state politics. McClellan is currently the public information officer and personnel director at the Cape County Sheriff’s Office.
He didn’t talk much about his history run during the event, leaving it up to people like Ocean City Mayor Jim Gillian to sing his praises.
“I’ve known Antwan for a long time,” Gillian said. “On the school board and city council, he takes his time. He’s meticulous in his thought process. Our success here in Ocean City has been in part due to Antwan’s leadership. He’s one of those quiet leaders I know I can go to. If he goes to the assembly, we’re going to miss him. He’s a serious, compassionate man. It’s been great to know him not only as a colleague but a friend.”
McClellan is the youngest of six children born to Lawrence and Cora Mae McClellan. She was by his side in 2016 when he won his second term on council. He joked that he knows he will have at least one vote when it makes his run for state assembly.
“She’s been my rock and my first supporter,” McClellan said. “I knew running in elections I would at least have one vote, no matter what I did. I was sworn in on my mother’s bible she takes to church every day.”
McClellan roots in Ocean City and Cape May County runs deep. He was born and raised there. Played sports and graduated in 1993. After time away at Virginia State University and Old Dominion University, he returned to the area to work in the casino industry and never left.
He served on the school board from 2010-2012 before being elected to the Ocean City council.
“Serving on city council has been unbelievable,” McClellan told FRNJ. “Any opportunity that I have to give back, I’ll give back. That’s what I was taught and I wanted to keep moving that forward. I’m the youngest of six. Everybody else moved away. My father passed away and I wanted to make sure my mother had some structure.”
McClellan said giving back was something that his parents taught him while growing up in Ocean City. He said his road into politics grew from that.
“Initially, I was just serving on the school board to give back to the community and then there was an opening in my (city council) ward,” McClellan said. “I thought this was an opportunity to give back at a greater level and help people. I could help all the children in the school district but now I could help their families. My passions are the community and the kids.”
McClellan said in reaching out to African-American youth and others, he hopes to set an example that will encourage them to strive for greater things.
“If you’re good to people and they’re going to be good to you. That’s all I wanted to do,” McClellan said. “You have kids out here together who are really struggling. It’s harder for kids today. I want to encourage and empower kids and let them know they can be whatever they want to be. They don’t have to worry about getting on drugs, worry about being a long. I want to talk with kids and empower them.
“Going to high school and college, I never thought I would be a politician. I wanted to be a broadcaster. My message to them is that there are people out there who are willing to help you. You don’t have to do it alone. That’s what I’ve learned and what I want to pass on to other people,” he added.
McClellan is just the second black ever to serve on Ocean City council. Rev. Gregory Johnson broke that barrier in 2004. In the General Assembly race, though, he hopes to know where no other black in South Jersey has gone before.
He said that he wants people to look past the Republican and Democratic labels â€“ something that has been hard to do in national politics â€“ and work together for the district.
“Just because I have an ‘R’ after my name or someone else has a ‘D’ after their name doesn’t mean we can’t work together for the betterment of the community,” McClellan told the Sea Isle News in March when he first announced his candidacy for State Assembly. “My job would be to listen to all points of view. And I would hope people would listen to me. Collaboration is how things get done.”
Collaboration seems exactly what McClellan was all about at the Juneteenth celebration as people of all races and background greeted the city councilman and he gave full attention to them for as long as they needed. He said he will be getting married next year to his girlfriend of 19 years.
In the June primary, he was the second highest vote-getter, beating both Democratic candidates, who were in separate elections, posing well for his changes to win a General Assembly seat in November.
Democrat Jeff Van Drew, who once held one of the seats, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, suggesting another possibility down the road for McClellan. But for now, if he is successful in his latest political run, McClellan may end up reading about himself in Ocean City history books on the accomplishments of local African-Americans.