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.”