“Skip” DeWitt Files as Democrat for Cecil County Sheriff

May 24, 2010

   The already hotly contested race for Cecil County Sheriff in the 2010 election has ramped up a notch with the candidacy filing of Robert ( Skip ) DeWitt, a current Deputy and the son of a very popular former Sheriff, to challenge fellow Democrat Chris Sutton in the primary election this year. Skip DeWitt’s filing late Friday afternoon took Democratic Party members by surprise, after his previous declaration that he would not run this year.

  DeWitt, 47, a resident of Chesapeake City, filed his candidacy papers at the local Elkton office of the state Board of Elections late Friday afternoon, according to a  Board spokeswoman. In Monday interviews with The Cecil Times, DeWitt confirmed his filing as a candidate and outlined his biography. He said he has been a  Cecil County Deputy for 19 years and currently holds the rank of Deputy First Class, assigned to the support services unit, handling evictions and court services. He also previously served  for 10 years in the patrol division and also worked in criminal investigations, he said, including a brief stint working with the drug task force.

   Sutton has a higher rank– Corporal– and supervisory experience, serving as road patrol supervisor.

  DeWitt’s sudden filing took many local Democrats by surprise, after he initially told the county’s Democratic committee this winter that he would file but then a month later he recanted and said he would not enter the primary against Sutton.  Sutton filed as a candidate last summer and was the unsucessful Democratic nominee in 2006 against incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney, Sr.  DeWitt also acknowledged in the interview that he had posted on an Internet website that he would not run this year and would remain “neutral” in the 2010 election.

 What changed? DeWitt said that initially it appeared that fellow Democrats were “satisfied” with Sutton’s candidacy. But he said that as he spoke with many Cecil County residents, they were “not satisfied with these candidates– and I was not satisfied.”

   DeWitt said he believes his greatest strength as a candidate, and as Sheriff, would be that he is “easy to talk to” and that he would be “the best communicator” with county residents. (So far, he has not established a website or social media  presence on sites such as Twitter.) DeWitt also said that he is dedicated to the Sheriff’s position, it would be his “life”  and he is “in it for the long haul” for many years to come.

  Asked about his differences with fellow Democrat Sutton, DeWitt emphasized that he was  a “better communicator” and would hold town hall-type meetings to discuss crime problems with local residents. Asked about his differences with incumbent Republican Janney, DeWitt initially paused and said his top priority was the party primary. When pressed, he added that he has communication skills with departmental employees and would “stand by them” on salary and benefit issues. 

 Janney has been criticized by many deputies for joining with the county Commissioners in opposing binding arbritration in salary and other disputes  between the county and Deputies. After a  legislative battle in Annapolis, which pitted several Republican members of the state delegation against the County Commissioners, the Commissioners largely prevailed on a bill that provides collective bargaining but non-binding mediation for Sheriff’s Department employees.

   The sudden filing by DeWitt as a Democratic candidate for Sheriff has many Deputies and Democrats scratching their heads–and wondering whether his step is really a distraction to give Sutton a hard time in the Democratic primary. Janney is already facing two Republican primary opponents–Dan Slater, a current Deputy, and Al Michael, a former state trooper and ousted police chief of Rising Sun.  Janney, who announced his re-election bid several months ago, has had a so far non-existent campaign but will have to pay attention to and spend campaign funds on a crowded primary. With a previously clear field in the primary, Sutton had an advantage to focus on the November general election, presumably running against Janney.

  But with Skip DeWitt’s entry into the Democratic primary, Sutton will have a credible challenger. Many older voters remember Jack DeWitt, his father who served as Sheriff from 1974-1990 and was very popular with voters.

   Asked for comment upon Skip DeWitt’s filing, Sutton told The Cecil Times: “At least there’s another deputy that realizes that the current Sheriff isn’t doing a good job.”

ANALYSIS: PA House Race Signals Path for Kratovil

May 19, 2010

   The victory of Democrat Mark Critz in a special Congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania’s 12th District may signal some trends that bode well for Maryland’s Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-1st, in the November general election, but only if the vulnerable Eastern Shore incumbent takes a few pages from Critz’ playbook.

   The key lesson? Run your own race based on your district’s needs and resist the temptation, or the pressure from your party and donors, to nationalize what is essentially a local contest based on local issues. And say the word “jobs” in every speech and plaster the word, and the issue, on your website and campaign flyers.

  Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a comfortable 53-44 margin, with a Libertarian candidate taking 2 percent of the vote in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Rep. John (Jack) Murtha, D, who held the seat for nearly 36 years with a steely mix of conservative and populist positions on issues. The district includes Johnstown and spreads west to the outskirts of Pittsburgh in a region that has faced chronic economic problems. (Read the local report on the outcome of Tuesday’s special election here: http://www.ourtownonline.biz/articles/2010/05/18/somerset_news/news/local/news097.txt

  In our previous life, we traveled the Murtha district in presidential political campaigns in the past, meeting with a coffee klatch of retirees at a local fast food restaurant, veterans at the VFW hall and working moms at the grocery store. It is a district that in many ways is similar to the Eastern Shore of Maryland (minus the Bay and crabs) with many small towns, rural areas and a feeling of being forgotten and/or betrayed by the economy and the promises of government.  A Volkswagen assembly plant that provided good manufacturing jobs fled to Mexico, small businesses closed down and were replaced by rows of fast food restaurants.

   Murtha dominated the district for years, although he had a close call in his last contest, with a mix of hawkish views on defense and attention to bringing home the bacon, as in jobs, to the economically depressed district. Even a small ball bearings plant had a military contract to keep the machines and employees working. Critz, the winner of Tuesday’s special election, worked for Murtha for many years as  district director and director of economic development.

   The district, while nominally Democratic in registration, voted for Republican John McCain in the last presidential election, as did Maryland’s 1st District. But the PA district narrowly supported Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush in 2004, while Maryland’s 1st overwhelmingly supported Bush.

   The national Democratic and Republican parties invested heavily in the special election, with each side sending in heavy hitters to campaign in the district and pouring money into TV ads. Republicans tried to make it a referendum on Washington and voter anger while Critz and the Democrats played it more locally: “It’s about jobs, it’s about the economy,” he said in his victory speech. Jobs and the economy dominated his campaign and website.

   His Republican opponent, a wealthy businessman, promoted a platform that sounded like the national GOP playbook with some cribbing from the Tea Party folks, pledging to “take back the country” and “reduce government spending,” balance the federal budget and end “corruption in Congress.”

   In the Maryland 1st, Andy Harris, the expected Republican nominee, is so far running a more balanced campaign than his failed run against Kratovil two years ago. Most of that campaign focused on attack ads dubbing Kratovil a ‘liberal’ while this time Harris is talking about tax cuts, repealing the new federal healthcare law, cutting government spending and mandatory term limits for members of Congress.

  But Kratovil, at least on his website, seems to be running a national rather than local campaign– with the exception of Chesapeake Bay issues. On his list of issues, his priorities are “balancing the budget,” touting his opposition to the Obama healthcare bill, a get-tough on immigration stand, support of gun rights and, in last place, protecting the Bay. Jobs didn’t make the cut!

[UPDATE: Kratovil recently updated his campaign website to put “jobs and the economy” at the top of his issues list. Guess he reads The Cecil Times? Here is the link: http://kratovil.com/p/wfc/web/candidate/issue/public/ ]

   In appearances around the district and press releases, Kratovil has indeed highlighted steps he has taken to bring jobs to the district and help small business, including his sponsorship of a bill to protect local car dealerships from being forced out of business by financially strapped manufacturers. But for the most part, Kratovil– a prime target of the Tea Party people– has been playing defense and playing it on the Republican end of the field.

   The PA special election indicates that voters with a similar profile to the MD 1st can be won with a laser-like focus on jobs and the economy and other local bread and butter issues.

  Kratovil had an early fundraising lead and is expected to continue to receive campaign assistance from the national Democratic party. However, Harris has made inroads in fundraising in recent months and is pulling closer to Kratovil’s warchest. But so far the deep pockets of the conservative Club for Growth that fueled Harris’ last race have not materialized. Indeed, the Club’s PAC has not even endorsed Harris yet and the group is expected to be devoting much of its resources to the Pennsylvania Senate race, in which Pat Toomey, the former president of the Club, is the Republican nominee.

   As the Maryland campaign cranks up in the next few months, the candidates would be smart to take a look at the PA special election and some lessons learned.

Family Concerns Led to Janusz’ Pullback on Commissioner Race

May 3, 2010

  Joe Janusz worked for the past four years to position himself for another run for Cecil County Commissioner, taking a seat on the county Planning Commission, joining the local Democratic Club leadership and networking with local community groups. At the age of 31, Janusz seemed well positioned for a credible candidacy for the 3rd District seat. But life got in the way.

  In February, his wife of ten years, Sara, filed for divorce, according to state court records. Janusz moved out of the family home and moved to an Elkton area address, the court records show. Those personal matters prompted Joe Janusz to re-consider his campaign, announced last summer, and also set in motion some difficult and strained circumstances in local Democratic political circles.

   Sara Janusz is a political figure in her own right, serving as the President of the county’s Democratic women’s club and the treasurer for Jobeth Bowers’ campaign for the Democratic Central Committee in Cecil County. She is also mother to the couple’s three young children.

  “We were high school sweethearts,” Joe Janusz told the Cecil Times. “I was 21 when we got married. We were young.” Apart from any personal issues, the couple also had growing political differences, he said. His own politics were more moderate, even leaning toward Republicans on some issues, while his wife was more liberal, he added.

   Since February, Joe Janusz has been largely off the campaign trail and pondering what was best for his family and especially his young children. His job as a manager with Paramount home pest exterminators was transferred to Fallston and took more time away from family and county political or governmental duties.

  He considered pulling out of the race but wondered who might take his place as the Democratic candidate. He didn’t want to leave the party in the lurch. Brian Lockhart, the current occupant of the Commissioner seat, had announced he was not seeking re-election. Janusz was also concerned that by staying in the race, there could be strains within the local Democratic party between his supporters and others who have worked with his wife on party matters.

   Sources close to the situation say that things came to a head within the past two weeks, after numerous contacts between Janusz and Lockhart. Lockhart said he would re-consider his options and seek the county seat if Janusz decided to pull out.

   Lockhart has been a political mentor for Janusz, appointing him to the Planning Commission. Both men acknowledge that they had a gentleman’s agreement not to run against each other for the Democratic nomination for the Commissioner’s seat. So when Lockhart initially decided against running again, the field was clear for Janusz. Then, with Janusz re-thinking his candidacy, the ball was back in Lockhart’s court.

   Since the Cecil Times reported last week that Janusz was expected to withdraw from the race and Lockhart was expected to jump in, Janusz said he has received many calls from people of both political parties asking him to stay in the race. He met over the weekend with supporters and said he would issue a formal statement on his plans in the next few days.

  “The odds are 99.9 percent that Joe will back out,” said one source close to the candidate.

  Janusz is still a very young man and has another year on his Planning Commission seat. Some sources suggest that he might be a likely pick for another county slot, possibly the liquor board, when his current volunteer position expires as a way to stay involved in service to the county but without the grueling time demands of the Planning Commission. That would keep him involved in local government circles and possibly position him for another political race in the future, when his children are older.

   Janusz had already begun fundraising and building his campaign organization for the Commissioner’s race. State election records filed in January show he raised $12,030, and spent $10,765 on his campaign, leaving a net cash-on-hand balance of $1,265. Under state election law, that balance could be transferred to another political committee (such as a Lockhart campaign committee) or to a Democratic party committee.

   A Cecil Times review of the campaign finance statements showed that about 40 percent of Janusz’ contributions and fundraiser ticket purchases came from the Slagle family, which includes his uncle and a cousin, Gary M. Slagle, Jr., who served as the campaign’s Treasurer. Janusz also received a $160 donation from the campaign of fellow Democrat Chris Sutton, who is running for Sheriff.

   [Minutes of the county planning board show that on January 23, 2008, Janusz voted in favor of a rezoning application by Gary Slagle, Sr. that was also supported by Gary Slagle, Jr. to change a 1.1 acre portion of an Elkton property from SR (Suburban Residential) to BG (Business General.) Two neighbors spoke against the change and the county Planning and Zoning Department recommended against the change. However, the six voting members of the Commission present agreed unanimously to approve the change, with Janusz providing the second on the motion to approve. He did not recuse himself from the vote, despite the family connection, but even if he had, the change would have been approved anyway with the unanimous votes of the five remaining panel members.]

   Janusz faced a difficult decision on whether to continue his campaign for Commissioner, weighing what was best for his young children against his own desire to follow in the  elective office footsteps of his grandfather who was the mayor of Elkton in the 1970’s. On his website,  [UPDATE: the campaign website has now been disabled] he stated his political priorities, which now clearly are his personal priorities as well:

   “We must do our part to make Cecil County the best that it can be for our children, and grandchildren.”