(Oct. 31, 2014) After spending decades in Washington, D.C. and Annapolis working alongside congressmen, governors and a certain Secretary of State, Republican Mary Beth Carozza is focusing her energy on the newly created District 38C House of Delegates seat.
The Ocean City resident faces Democrat challenger Judy Davis in the Nov. 4 general election.
Carozza moved to Ocean City with her family when she was in fifth grade and the family opened a restaurant, Beefy’s, on 17th Street.
“We all grew up in the family business,” she said. “That was really where I was taught my work ethic. When I first started, in sixth or seventh grade, I was pouring fountain drinks and cooking fries.
“That really grounded me, growing up in the family business,” Carozza continued. “Seeing the challenges we faced as a family and now looking at the challenges that these family businesses face motivates me and inspires me to want to do this job as state delegate.”
A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School, Carozza earned tennis and academic scholarships at the Catholic University of America in D.C., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political philosophy and a master’s in American government. Carozza said the experience of being in the district during the Regan administration was hugely influential.
“That was a very inspirational time,” she said. “The time of ‘tear down that wall’ and the ‘shining city on the hill’ was very impactful.”
Degree in hand, Carozza landed a job as assistant press secretary for Maine congressional representative Bill Cohen. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she worked under Ohio congressmen Dave Hobson, moving up to chief of staff by the age of 30.
“I learned so much from Dave Hobson,” she said. “He taught me you always work with the other side, and even if you know you can win on an issue, always leave something on the table for the person on the other side so they know you are dealing in good faith.”
Hobson also gave Carozza an opportunity to work in military relations and that opened a door to work at the department of Defense in the George W. Bush administration.
Carozza was working in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists crashed a plane into the building’s western side. Stationed on the eastern side of the massive building, Carozza was busy preparing materials for a Capitol Hill briefing on missile defense.
“We were in a meeting when the first plane hit (in New York City), so the TV was on in the background, but we were doing our meeting, getting ready for our briefings,” she said. “When the second plane hit, that’s when we knew it was an act of terrorism. At that point we immediately shifted gears and started prepping for Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz to talk about who was behind this.”
Suddenly, one of the staff members heard a noise. Carozza said she dashed into the hallway to look for the source.
“At that point the loudspeakers came on to evacuate the building,” she said. The staff believed the alert was essentially a fire drill created “out of an abundance of caution” and calmly collected their things.
“It was very orderly because we had evacuated before,” she said. “There was no panic, and it’s not until you get out of the building and you turn around that you see the smoke. At that point we realized we had been hit.”
A year later, Carozza moved onto the Bob Ehrlich administration in what she called “a difficult decision.”
“I knew the historic impact of being part of the Bush administration on Sept. 11 at the Pentagon, but I also felt that I could take those experiences and help my home state,” she said. “Gov. Ehrlich gave me the opportunity to really start working with more local community and business leaders down here, and that was a great opportunity.”
Carozza served as deputy chief of staff, returning home to Ocean City on the weekends and teaching Sunday school.
In 2012, after serving as deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, Carozza returned to the Eastern Shore for good. Carozza filed for office in May 2013 and began her “door-to-door listening visits” a full year before the primary began.
“I thought it was really important to show that I was out to earn the support, and I wanted to earn a cross-section of support from Republicans, Independents and Democrats,” she said. “I truly believe that if I can show this cross section of support it strengthens the positions that I can take. I can say, ‘I walked this whole district … and the policies that I’m taking are completely reflecting what I’m hearing day in and day out on the trail.’”
Carozza said her focus is on increasing local control on the education system, supporting tourism, watermen and farmers, and pushing for more “high tech” jobs on the Eastern Shore.
“What I’m hearing is the economy and jobs,” she said. “They were saying, ‘if our young people want to stay here they need to make sure they have the opportunity to so, that we have a local economy that’s diversified enough.’ I’ve talked to so many families and business owners that have said, ‘if we want to pass our way of life on we need better policies at the state level.
“I already understand how the system works at the state level, and I would like to leverage the experience that I’ve had the federal level to see how we can bring more resources back home to the community,” she said.