After 32 years in public office, Egg Harbor Township Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough is retiring and heading to the beach.

McCullough, a Republican and the longest-serving mayor in the Atlantic County community just outside Atlantic City, announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection. His three-year term ends in December.

McCullough, 76, was unanimously selected mayor for the 28th time in January by the all-Republican, five-member Township Committee. During the four years that he served as a committee member and not as mayor, Democrats controlled the committee. He previously served in the state Senate, on the planning and zoning boards, and the Municipal Utilities Authority.

"I leave Egg Harbor Township in good hands," McCullough said at a news conference in the municipal building. "I think it's time for new people."

McCullough is among the longest-serving mayors in the state and was inducted into the Mayors' Hall of Fame in 1999, according to Michael J. Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. He has been mayor for 22 straight years.

"In comparison, there are mayors currently serving who have more than 30 years in the position.  But 28 is a very impressive tenure," Darcy wrote in an email.

An open seat in the November election offers a glimmer of hope for local Democrats, who have not won a seat on the committee in at least 10 years, said Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee. The party is interviewing potential candidates, he said.

"We did not expect this," Suleiman said. "We're excited about this open seat. We feel good that we'll be competitive this year."

A retired businessman, McCullough cited highlights of his administration that included transforming the Atlantic County landfill into a golf course, removing rundown motels in West Atlantic City, establishing a Catholic church, St. Katherine Drexel, and building recreation fields in the 68-square-mile township. The population also grew from about 20,000 residents to 45,000 during his tenure.

"I now end my political career with great memories and accomplishments," McCullough said.

The retirement is the third for McCullough. He spent 35 years in the automotive industry, built a shopping center, and owned commercial properties in Atlantic City, where he previously lived for 44 years. He also was deputy director of engineering of the South Jersey Transportation Authority for 15 years.

McCullough said he announced his retirement now to give the GOP time to find a replacement by the April 2 filing deadline. The mayor is selected by the committee members every January for a one-year term.

"It's just bittersweet for all of us. He's worked hard," said committee member Laura Pfrommer. An accountant, Pfrommer said she may consider seeking the mayor's job at the committee reorganization in January. "He has given his heart and soul."

McCullough said he has sold his home in Egg Harbor Township and purchased a beachfront condo in Atlantic City, where he plans to spend more time with his wife, Georgene, their four children, and eight grandchildren and "has no plans to be in  politics."

"It was a tough decision. It didn't come easy," McCullough said in an interview. "I'm going to miss it."