Toms River mayor, who led town through Superstorm Sandy, serves last day in office

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Tuesday was the last day in office for the three-term mayor of Toms River Tom Kelaher.

Kelaher will turn over the keys to City Hall at noon New Year's Day. It caps a career in public service that's included four years on active duty with the Marine Corps, five and a half as Ocean County prosecutor and 12 as mayor.

"My wife says she's doesn't want me hanging around the house, so I have to find a job. So, it looks like I'm going to head back to my old law firm,” says Kelaher.

The mayor says that his defining moment during his tenure was Superstorm Sandy, which hit Toms River on Oct. 29, 2012. He says that at sunrise the next day, Kelaher was on Route 35 looking at his devastated town.

"The sand was up over your knees like there had been a blizzard. There were houses in the middle - you've seen the pictures - houses in the middle of the highway that had washed down from up by the ocean. Telephone poles were at 45-degree angles,” says Kelaher. "And I can remember standing there saying to some of our police officers, ‘Where do you even begin to start cleaning up?’ It was just absolutely overwhelming."

In 2013, Toms River settled a lawsuit filed by former public information officer Angela Santoriello for over $140,000. Santoriello alleged Kelaher sexually harassed her, kissed her and groped her.

"She was a very needy person, had a lot of personal, emotional problems,” says Kelaher. “When she left, she made some accusations that were really not well-founded at all."

Of the #MeToo movement, Kelaher says, “You got to be very careful. If it's true, it's wrong. And you can't blame people for coming forward."

The 87-year-old announced in March he would not seek re-election. Fellow Republican Mo Hill won November's election and takes office Wednesday.

"A lot of mixed emotions, I had a wonderful experience here in 12 years and it gets to be like a family because you see the same people every day,” Kelaher says.

Kelaher says he cooled political tensions between mayor and council that had festered in previous years.

"People have said to me that the last 12 years have been the golden era of politics in Toms River and if that's the case, that's an accomplishment,” he says.

Hill will be formally sworn in as Toms River's mayor during a council meeting Friday.

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