(Jan. 2, 2015) Republicans rolled, Maryland got a new governor, a brand-new district received a brand-new representative, and at least one community saw a significant change in leadership thanks to municipal and off-year elections.
Snow Hill chimed in first, releasing the results of the Eastern District Town Council seat on Wednesday, May 7. Preliminary results showed Alison Cook beating Gary Weber 65 votes to 33.
Incumbent mayor John “Charlie” Dorman won reelection without facing opposition.
In Berlin, three council seats faced election in September.
District 4 Councilmember Dean Burrell was the first to tip his hat, saying stormwater management was the forefront issue on his mind. District 1 Councilmember Troy Purnell also announced his intention to run, while At-Large Councilmember Paula Lynch initially stalled.
In Ocean Pines, two seats on the association’s board of directors were up for grabs. A crowded field emerged, as incumbents Jeff Knepper and Terri Mohr stood against Lawrence Lee, Dan Moul, Patrick Renaud, Slobodan Trendic and David Stevens.
In Worcester County, all seven seats on the county commissioner’s bench faced a vote.
Turning to state races, Democrats Judy Davis and Mike Hindi vied for the new District 38C Maryland House of Delegates seat, while Mary Beth Carozza ran on the Republican side.
In District 38A former Crisfield Mayor Percy Purnell, a Democrat, ran against Republican Charles Otto.
Democratic incumbent Sen. Jim Mathias faced opposition in District 38 from Republican Del. Mike McDermott. Four Republican candidates for governor faced off, while Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown led a pack of six candidates on the Democratic side.
In the lone race with national implications, physician John LaFerla and lawyer Bill Tilghman competed in the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District seat, while incumbent Andy Harris faced a challenge from Jonathan Gof, Jr. on the Republican side.
Ballots were due in Ocean Pines in August, and things heated up early in the board race.
Renaud and Stevens teamed up to rail against the leadership of the current board, as well as the contract the community awarded to General Manager Bob Thompson.
“I think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the way things are being run,” Renaud said. “Many of the five non-incumbent board candidates were encouraged to run because of the disappointment with the board and the general manager in the last two years.”
Stevens previously stepped down from the board because of term limits, serving for six years as treasurer and board president.
“I believe the reasons for the interest in this year’s election and the large field of candidates are: one, the disappointing performance of the general manager and two, repeated failures of the current board to hold him accountable,” Stephens said.
“It will take two new board members with similar views and open minds to bring about the change OPA members are demanding,” Stephens continued. “I have the highest confidence in Pat Renaud as someone who will work diligently to make a difference.”
In early June, Trendic announced his withdraw, throwing his support instead behind Renaud and Stevens.
“In order to make the change possible that everybody is asking for, I anticipate the board will have a new president,” Trendic said. “I believe the person that is most suitable is Dave Stevens. I think he’s done great things in the past – and some not-so-great things – but I think no one is perfect, and if he’s given a chance he will certainly redeem himself and get things done right.”
Moul also withdrew from the OPA race in June.
Stevens, meanwhile, continued to hammer the current board, saying the last three years were “marked by closed deliberations, presentations with more polish than substance, unbudgeted capital expenditures and reports that emphasized the ‘positive’ rather than the truth.”
The June 24 primary election narrowed the playing field, although turnout results were abysmal.
At Buckingham Presbyterian Church in Berlin, just three voters participated in the first hour and a half after polls opened.
Turnout at Berlin Intermediate School was also painfully low, where 13 voters showed up in the first two hours.
At the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, one of the largest polling locations in the area, 109 voters cast their ballots during the first two and a half hours.
“That’s low even for an off-year primary,” election official George Payne said.
By the end of the day, just 6,424 of the 31,792 registered voters in Worcester County cast ballots.
In the race for governor, which Politico called “the ugliest statewide Democratic primary in the country,” Brown defeated Attorney General Doug Gansler by more than a two-to-one margin. Republican Larry Hogan easily won his party’s nomination.
Tilghman handily defeated LaFerla to earn the Democratic District 1 nomination, while Harris trounced his competition.
Judy Davis earned the Democratic nomination for District 38C.
The notion that every vote counted was never more apparent than in several contested county commissioner races, where Republican Ted Elder appeared to edge Kathryn Danko-Lord by just three votes to earn his party’s District 4 nomination. In another nail-biter, Chip Bertino led for the District 5 Republican nomination over Grant Helvey by eight votes on election day.
After totaling all the absentee ballots, Elder and Danko-Lord were deadlocked, leading to an unprecedented move in which the Republican Central Committee voted on the nomination.
Elder won the final vote 7-2, sending him up against incumbent Democrat Virgil Shockley in the November general election.
Bertino, meanwhile, held off Helvey 333-321, giving him the Republican nomination. Tom Wilson won the Democratic nomination for District 5.
Madison Jim Bunting Jr. comfortably beat Linda C. Busick for the Republican District 6 seat, where no Democratic challengers filed.
Incumbent Republican Merrill W. Lockfaw Jr. ran unopposed for District 1 commissioner seat. Likewise for Madison Jim Bunting Jr. in District 6, while newcomer Republican Joseph M. Mitrecic ran unopposed for the District 7 seat.
In District 2, Diana Purnell faced Republican Lorraine Purnell-Ayres, and Republican incumbent Bud Church faced Democrat Michael Maykrantz.
Ocean Pines released the results of the community election on Aug. 9, and Renaud and Stevens were the top vote getters, essentially giving them a 4-3 voting block with current directors Marty Clark and Jack Collins.
Stevens said the election “confirmed our sense of the dissatisfaction of a great number of people in Ocean Pines.”
“We made the issues as plain as we could,” he said. “We wanted to be sure that we were not facing a 4-3 voting bloc. That’s what happened before and I had their experience of three years on the board where I was in that minority. What I am also hoping is that … there will be a real exchange of ideas and that it won’t be all ‘us and them,’”
During an organizational meeting on Aug. 15, Stevens was selected president of the OPA board, replacing Tom Terry. Renaud was elected secretary, Clarke won the vice presidency and Collins became treasurer.
End of an Era
Later that month, longtime councilmember Paula Lynch announced she would not seek reelection after 26 years in office.
“I just think it’s time,” Lynch said. “Twenty six years is enough for anybody. It’s time for other folks to give some input.”
Mayor Gee Williams said Lynch, “always provided a steady hand on the tiller as Berlin has navigated through both good times and bad. I personally have always relied on her good judgment and natural instincts to consider the long-term implications of anything the town does. She always tried to anticipate not only the things you can foresee, but also unforeseen consequences.”
Burrell said he held Lynch “in the utmost regard.”
“She has been and will continue to be a treasure for the town of Berlin,” he said. “Her service to the town of Berlin and its citizens have been second to none. Paula is a gem.”
Businessperson Thom Gulyas filed for the vacant seat and the two incumbents voiced their support.
“Knowing Thom, I think he will be an asset to the town and to the general population of Berlin,” Burrell said. “I always thought of Thom as being a good guy.”
Purnell said Gulyas had a “good business head on him.”
“I think he’ll do a fantastic job,” he said. “I think the town needs to be run like a business.”
On Sept. 9, as no opposition candidates filed, Berlin canceled its municipal election and certified Purnell, Burrell and Gulyas as the winners.
“I’m excited,” Gulyas said. “I intend to sit down, do my homework, vet everything that I possibly can before a decision is made. I may not always be with the rest of the council … but I will do my homework, and I’ll make sure that before I make a decision on anything that I’ve done the best I possibly can to ferret out all the information to make that decision.”
On the county level, Wilson and Bertino butted heads during several forums over the expansion of Route 589.
Wilson accused the current crop of commissioners of not doing enough to address the congestion on the highway.
“We need to do better,” he said. “The commissioners say they’re working on this when, in fact, they’ve done next to nothing. We can build coalitions. We can build alliances. We can work with the state to get funding for 589.”
Bertino said Wilson was, “divorced from what has actually occurred” on highway expansion.
“Route 589 has continually been an important issue for the county commissioners and Ocean Pines,” Bertino said. “To suggest that the county commissioners are not doing enough to do what needs to be done on Route 589 is quite frankly unfair and untrue.”
Sparks also flew between Mathias and McDermott during fall forums, including the Oct. 8 meeting at the Ocean City Senior Center.
McDermott, his voice booming in the small auditorium, accused Democrats of trying to, “find a way to tax the sunshine.”
“We are full of politicians in this state,” he said. “You need leaders. You need people who will look out of the box. Your hope and your future and that of your grandchildren is dependent upon these elections. If you keep putting the same people up there who keep doing the same policies with the same results – that’s lunacy.”
“Tonight we’ve been hollered at,” Mathias said. “I thought we came here to discuss, not to be belittled – not to be demanded – not to be arrogant. That’s not how we do anything. That’s not how we do it in a family. It’s certainly not how we do it in a community, and clearly it’s not how you do it in government.”
Several members of the audience interrupted the senator to defend McDermott, shouting, “He’s being passionate” and “He’s telling the truth.”
The moderator fought to restore order, while McDermott dug in.
“When somebody has liberal tendencies and is boxed in and can’t answer the question and can’t dig out of the hole because they keep digging and digging and digging that they resort to personal attacks, calling somebody arrogant, talking about somebody hollering, not even recognizing true, passionate debate,” McDermott said. “Passionate men – passionate women – they understand their core values and those of their constituents, and they rise up and debate, sometimes vehemently for their passionate views.”
Phosphorus became an unlikely issue in the Mathias – McDermott race after the state threatened to impose harsh restrictions on farmers based on the presence of the chemical element in fertilizer used to grow crops on the Eastern Shore.
Mathias fought to stall legislation on the issue until the state conducted the impact study, while McDermott accused Mathias of being too willing to compromise.
“Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative you should understand the need to protect our economy from these types of attacks,” he said. “If I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of protecting the farms and our economic interests and viability.”
“To compromise from a position where you lack knowledge – that’s not a wise decision to make,” McDermott continued. [Mathias is] probably more willing to compromise and work something out as opposed to saying, ‘prove it’ first so we know what the facts are before we move forward.”
Mathias said voters would ultimately have to decide, “Who was able to accomplish what through leadership.”
“I know where we were well over a year ago in the summer of 2014,” he said. “I know who my partners have been to get us this far, and I know it’s come through effective leadership. Someone may say this is an election year issue or an election issue – this is an absolute critical, fundamental everyday issue for our family farms and our family farm community here on the Eastern Shore. That’s what I fight for every day and that’s what I’ll continue to fight for.”
Finally, the Results
On Election Day, Nov. 4, a massive Republican landslide swept the nation, the state and, especially, Worcester County.
Hogan grabbed most of the headlines on election evening, upsetting Brown by more than 75,000 votes statewide. Hogan won 51.47 percent of the vote in Maryland, but he absolutely dominated in Worcester County, winning on almost 70 percent of ballots.
Only Harris, who won more than 70 percent of the vote in his district, did worse in Worcester County, winning by a mere 64.5 to 35.5 percent over challenger Tilghman.
One Democrat who did survive the GOP juggernaut was Mathias in the District 38 state senate race, posting a 1,228 vote-lead over McDermott.
Otto defeated Purnell in District 38A, and Carozza won big over Davis in District 38C.
Six of the seven Worcester County Commissioners seats also went Republican, with only Diana Purnell winning a seat over Republican Purnell-Ayers in District 2.
Elder upset veteran District 4 commissioner Shockley in District 4, and Bertino beat Wilson in District 5.
More than 35,000 people cast ballots on Election Day in Worcester County, totaling 51.13 percent of registered voters, the eighth-highest turnout in Maryland.
Those numbers were lower than the 61.6 percent of voters that showed up in 2012 during the presidential election, but remained higher than the 48.02 percent of voters who turned out in 2010, the last off-year election.