By Donald WittkowskiWith less than two weeks to go before the election, mayoral candidate John Flood drew sharp contrasts between himself and Mayor Jay Gillian during a public forum Friday night that was supposed to be a debate between the two men but turned into a one-man show.Capitalizing on Gillian’s absence, Flood broadly criticized the two-term mayor’s spending practices and policies while laying out his own proposals for the city’s finances, construction projects and more transparency in the local government.“You have two men with two drastically different styles and feelings about how this town should be run,” Flood said.Flood, a former councilman who is looking to make a political comeback, was able to hammer away at Gillian’s record and tout his own vision for the city without having to worry about any rebuttal during the 80-minute forum sponsored by the local government watchdog group Fairness In Taxes.Fairness In Taxes President Jim Tweed discusses the ground rules for the forum while Flood listens.Fairness In Taxes had hoped to have Gillian and Flood debate the issues, but the mayor declined an invitation to attend the forum. Gillian cited two pending lawsuits filed against the city by Flood and his son as the reason for not showing up.“I’d like to thank both Fairness In Taxes and the League of Women Voters for offering to sponsor a mayoral debate. However, because my opponent is involved in two lawsuits against the city, legal counsel has advised me not to participate in the upcoming debate in order to avoid prejudicing the city in the pending litigation. I intend to heed that advice and must respectfully decline the invitation,” Gillian said in a statement.The League of Women Voters was supposed to moderate, but withdrew because there would only be one candidate and it would not constitute a real debate.Flood and his son, Justin, both of whom are developers, have sued the city over two stalled housing projects they have proposed building in town. Flood contended Gillian used the pending litigation as an excuse to skip the debate. He also said it was another example of how the mayor is trying to ignore him leading up to the May 8 election.“The mayor has been running a D.C.-style campaign. He’s been ignoring me,” Flood told an audience of about 75 people who attended the forum at the Ocean City Free Public Library.Doug Bergen, the city’s public information officer in Gillian’s administration, sat in the audience but declined to comment on Flood’s remarks after the forum.Name cards sat on a table for both candidates. Mayor Jay Gillian had declined well in advance, but there was hope that he would attend anyway. His name card was removed once the event began.As he has done earlier in the campaign, Flood sharply criticized Gillian for the construction of new public bathrooms that are being built next to the mayor’s Boardwalk amusement park business, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier.Flood alleged that the restrooms, at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk, will benefit Gillian’s business by drawing more visitors to the amusement park. Gillian has flatly denied the restroom project is being done to help his business.According to Flood, the bathroom project will cost more than $1 million and is an example of the need for more transparency in local government. He said local taxpayers should be given more information about city projects and local ordinances so they can give their input.Flood also spent part of Friday’s forum focusing on the city’s growing debt load. He predicted the city’s debt will result in higher taxes in coming years.“It’s going to lead to a tax increase,” he said. “When that happens, people are going to scream.”Flood pointed out that the city’s debt was $67 million in 2010, the year Gillian first took office as mayor. Since then, it has grown to $126 million and will jump an additional $88 million over the next four years to finance the city’s capital plan, he said.Gillian has proposed a $100 million, five-year capital plan consisting of a series of road, drainage, dredging and construction projects to upgrade the city’s critical infrastructure. Referring to the bonds that will finance the projects, Flood said the city has borrowed heavily to pay for the capital plan and essentially has put the bill on a “credit card.”Flood said he favors modernizing the city’s aging infrastructure. But if he is elected mayor, he would slow down the capital plan to analyze the impact on the tax rate and to study whether all of the proposed projects are truly needed, he noted.Audience members at the Ocean City Free Public Library asked Flood questions about major issues facing the city.Throughout the forum, Flood took questions from the audience about major issues in town, including flooding, the dredging of the shallow back bays, housing development and how the local government interacts with residents.He pledged to take an aggressive approach to reduce flooding on the barrier island. Flood also said he would look to clear out the sediment-clogged lagoons with more dredging. Flood-mitigation and dredging projects have also been high priorities of Gillian’s capital program.Flood also said he hopes affordable housing will be created in Ocean City for young families and senior citizens. Flood, who is a commercial real estate developer, mentioned a site he owns at 16th Street and Haven Avenue as a possible location for a senior-citizens apartment complex.Previously, Flood had proposed building 10 so-called “coastal cottages,” a controversial form of housing, on the same site. However, City Council voted in 2016 to eliminate coastal cottages from a redevelopment zone where they were supposed to be clustered along Haven Avenue.Flood’s lawsuit against the city seeks a court order overturning the Council vote, according to City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson.Council revoked coastal cottages from the Haven Avenue development corridor in response to complaints that a similar project had exacerbated flooding, parking and overcrowding problems in surrounding neighborhoods.Flood told the audience Friday that he no longer plans to build coastal cottages on his site at 16th Street and Haven Avenue. Instead, he is now considering the property for affordable senior-citizens housing.Currently, the property is occupied by a CVS store. Flood owns the building where the CVS is housed. Flood said he wants CVS to stay there, but noted that the site might be a good location for a senior-citizens apartment if the pharmacy chain decides to leave.A broadcast of the debate is scheduled to run at 11 a.m. Saturday and at 7:40 p.m. Monday on Ocean City’s public access Channel 97. Mayoral candidate John Flood addresses the audience during what turned out to be a one-man forum.