Chamber Forum: Commissioner Candidates Speak, Show Pictures

September 29, 2010

   The Cecil County Chamber of Commerce hosted a softball candidates’  forum Tuesday night,  with candidates for County Commissioner getting a chance to pitch their biographies and platforms without questions on issues. If pictures are worth a thousand words (or the four minutes of talk alloted to each speaker), then incumbent Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3) took the cake with his slide-show of ribbon cuttings for new or expanded businesses opened in the county on his watch.

  Lockhart, the current President of the county board, highlighted his participation in ribbon-cutting ceremonies for multiple businesses opened in the county since he won his seat in the 2006 election.  What he didn’t say was that some of the businesses had been courted by the county long before he took office.  However, he particularly mentioned the Monday “soft opening,” as the owners call it, of the new Hollywood Casino in Perryville, the state’s first slots facility.  That project, the result of a state-wide referendum on slots two years ago, did receive substantial support from the county on expedited permits and inspections that led to the early opening of a facility that has already created over 300 jobs.  The facility’s Penn National operators  have said that most of the jobs have gone to Cecil and Harford county residents.

   Lockhart. who owns two trash removal companies and is a board member of Cecil Bank,  said he went to the Monday “soft” opening of the slots facility and was pleased to meet so many Cecil County residents who have found jobs close to home. “It came at a great time,” he said of the revenues that the slots facility will bring to the county. He cited his experience as a small business owner to illustrate his commitment to support existing business in the county. “It makes me mad,” he said, when people only talk about incentives for new businesses. “We need to help the businesses already here,” he said, adding that he endorses a “buy local” agenda.

   His opponent, Michael Dunn (R) said the county “needs fresh ideas on the Board of Commissioners” and cited his “experience” working for Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) as a legislative aide. He said he had worked with his family in the hospitality industry. Dunn said his agenda was “lower taxes, less government spending” and “jobs” in the county. He said he had been active with community and Republican groups for over ten years and noted he had served a term on the county’s Republican Central Committee.

  “We need to adopt a new path,” Dunn said. He said the county must “eliminate waste” in spending and “lower taxes.”

   In the 4th District Commissioners race, Democrat Carl Roberts, who defeated incumbent Commissioner Wayne Tome in the recent Democratic primary, highlighted his “executive experience” as the former county Superintendent of Schools and cited his resume for bringing “effective leadership” to county government. Roberts emphasized his campaign theme that the county is too reliant on  residential property taxes–constituting 61 percent of the revenues used to support county government costs– and  he urged business expansion to “re-balance” the revenue funding mechanisms of  county government.

    Roberts mentioned the concerns of county voters he has met, using their first names, and how he would address their issues. Among them are concerns by farmers that they have been ignored since there are now no farmers on the county board. “Agriculture is the single biggest business” in the county, he said, and farmland constitutes the largest land use.  He pledged to listen to and address the concerns of the farm community.

   His Republican rival, Diana Broomell, cited her “grassroots background” as a GOP activist and land preservation advocate. “I’m a hard worker,” she said, citing her involvement with the 21st Century Republican Club and efforts to bring about an elected county school board.

   Broomell obliquely criticized Roberts, saying that a former Schools Superintendent testified in Annapolis for a ‘special taxing district’  bill that did not provide for “school funding provisions.”  ( At the time that legislation was pending in Annapolis, Broomell was employed as a legislative aide  to Del. Smigiel, who strongly opposed the legislation, which was nevertheless enacted by the General Assembly.) That legislative authority, which has yet to be used by Cecil County Commissioners, allows assessments of fees against developers whose projects would cost the county for additional services required by their projects.

   In the 2nd District Commissioners’ race, Democrat Earl  Piner, Sr., a longtime Elkton town commissioner and former school board member,  said his most important qualification for the Commissioner seat was his personal “integrity” and his dedication to listening to the community.  He cited his many family members, all graduates of county schools, as proof that he would listen to parents and educators to ensure the schools have the support they need.

  Piner said he would bring the concerns of local residents to the Commissioners’  Board: “I want your input so I can bring it to the table,” he said.

  His GOP opponent, Tari Moore, said she and Piner had agreed to wage a positive campaign.  But most of her presentation sounded like past Carl Roberts candidate appearances that focused on the need for a “strategic plan” for the county. (During the Tuesday forum, Roberts only briefly mentioned needs  for a  ‘strategic plan.’)  Moore cited her experience as former executive director for the county’s Chamber of Commerce and said she knew how to help bring business to the county. She said her top priority was to bring “infrastructure” to the county’s growth corridor between I95 and Route 40.

  [Cecil Times will file a separate report on the Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum for state candidates for Delegate and state Senate.]

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Republican Committee War: Pipkin-Smigiel Slate Wins Majority Seats

September 15, 2010

   The drama may just be beginning for the Cecil County Republican Central Committee as members of  different factions elected in Tuesday’s primary learn to co-exist– or not.

    The crowded field of candidates –22 people vying for 9 seats– and the war of words on various Internet bulletin boards and comment pages was a never-ending source of  local political entertainment– especially for Democrats– in this election season.

  With all 19 regular precincts reporting, a slate spearheaded by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36, appeared to have won control of the party committee. However, absentee and provisional ballots could alter the final outcome since some candidates were separated by just a handful of votes.  

   The current chairman of the committee, Joe Carabetta, barely hung on, coming in 9th place in the crowded field. Several other current members of the committee, including Robert Amato and Allen Andrichyn, finished out of the running.

 The campaign featured rival slates and feuds over whether a slate assembled by two state legislators had the right to call itself  ‘tea party tested, tea party approved,’ when some of its members boycotted a non-partisan candidates’ forum hosted by the local tea  party group. The local tea party group, as part of its nonpartisan stance, also declined to endorse any candidates in the election, including some of its own members who were running for seats on the GOP Central Committee.

   While several ‘tea party’ members ran for the GOP committee, only Ted Kolodzey gained a seat, finishing in seventh place with ,1,874 votes.

    The Pipkin-Smigiel slate largely consisted of candidates recruited from the Young Republicans Club that is linked to Pipkin-Smigiel. The YR members of the slate were: Mike Dawson, Michael Dunn, Theodore Patterson, Carrie Taylor and Chris Zeauskas,– all of whom won seats in Tuesday’s balloting. Another member of the slate, Joseph Tropp, an officer of the YR-related “Repbulicans of Cecil (ROC) club, lost.

    In addition, the Pipkin-Smigiel slate recruited two newer members of the current Central Committee– James Hutchinson and Brad Carrillo– to join the slate, as well as Pipkin-Smigiel loyalist James Mullin, the county Commissioner representing the 1st District. Hutchinson and Mullin won seats, but Carillo did not.

  That slate published ads and campaign materials claiming it was “tea party tested, tea party approved” and that set off a firestorm of protest from the local tea party organization, the Cecil County Patriots.

   So a counter-slate of “tea party” activists  challenged the Smigiel-Pipkin slate. The tea party slate included Donna Caudell, Jackie Gregory, Kolodzey, Peter Oliphant, Harry Hite III and F. Gaylord Moody III.  Another tea party activist, Tom Kenny, chose not to join the slate and ran an independent campaign. Only Kolodzey managed to grab a seat on the GOP committee.

     Oher independent candidates were Tina Sharp, who is well known in GOP circles and previously ran for county Court clerk; Devon Perry, a Towson University student; and Anneliese Johnson, a mother of three and a graduate student. All three failed to win a seat.

    The top vote getter was Zeauskas, with 3,083 votes. Carabetta’s 9th place spot was snared with 1,869 votes.


4th Dist. Commissioners Race: Roberts Outspends Tome in Democratic Primary

September 8, 2010

   The Democratic primary for the 4th District county Commissioner’s seat is shaping up as one of the more expensive local campaigns of the year, with challenger Carl Roberts spending more than twice the campaign money of his opponent, incumbent Wayne Tome.

  Roberts, the former superintendent of  Cecil County schools, is trying to unseat Tome, who won the 4th District slot four years ago. Tome is a batallion chief with the Baltimore County fire department, a longtime volunteer firefighter and paramedic with local fire companies, and the former mayor of Port Deposit.

  Tome raised a total of $14,322 for his campaign and has spent $10,831, according to campaign finance reports filed through Sept. 3. His net cash on hand was $3,491. He had no loans to his campaign and financed his campaign out of current donations and fundraising events.

 During the same period, Roberts raised $33,068,  including $15,000 in personal loans to his campaign. He has spent $28,458, according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. His remaining bank balance was $4,611.

   Roberts’ campaign spent a total of $15,000, in three installments paid in April, May and June, to Dyekman Design of Chesapeake City for design of his website and campaign materials as well as “social media” services. The firm is operated by Jim Dyekman and his wife, Linda, who is the chairman of Roberts’ campaign committee. (Printing costs were paid separately to other businesses and Roberts has sent out three flyers to Democrats in the county.)  The Roberts website is here: www.electcarlroberts.com

  Such a figure is unheard of for local candidates, most of whom have volunteers create their websites and Facebook pages or paid more modest fees to professionals. One of the most politically effective websites in this year’s campaign season has been that of Chris Sutton, a candidate in the Democratic primary for sheriff, who paid a total of  $2,025 to an Elkton firm for website design, technical set up and webhosting services, according to finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

  In an interview with Cecil Times, Roberts said that he loaned the money to his campaign to cover the website and related costs because he felt getting his message out, as a “rookie” in politics, was important and that Jim Dykeman did most of the work, not his campaign chairwoman.

   While Roberts may be a “rookie” at running for office, he is no stranger to local politics from his many years of dealing with the County Commissioners as the schools Superintendent. “I’m not a politician, but I am political,” he said.   Roberts said he “hates” to ask people for donations to a political campaign, especially in this tough economy. “I think that’s the hardest thing to do when you are running for office,” he said.

  Meanwhile, Tome has been active on Facebook and also has a website, www.waynetome.com .   In an interview with Cecil Times, Tome said volunteers created his website without charge. He also has not spent campaign funds on big ticket items like billboards. He is sending out some targeted flyers to registered Democrats.

   Roberts paid $4,046 to Apple Outdoor Advertising for design and rental of billboards.  He has several billboards in highly visible areas, especially along Route 40.

   Donations to both candidates show some large contributions from prominent entities doing business in the county.

   Tome received $1,000 from North Bay Charters and Seafood, of North East; $1,000 from Clark Turner, whose companies have been involved in the Bainbridge redevelopment project as well as the “Extreme Makeover” TV show that rebuilt a theraputic riding center;  and $1,000 from the Firefighters Political Action Committee in Cockeysville.

    Contributions linked to County Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3rd) were Tomes’ largest source of funds: $2,492.  Lockhart transferred $892 from his 2006 campaign account while Monterey Refuse Service, which is owned by Lockhart,  donated another $1,000 to Tome. And Cecil Bank, where Lockhart sits on the Board of Directors, provided another $400 plus $200 in fundraiser ticket purchases.

   Tome said that other executives at the bank pushed for ticket sales and that Lockhart closed out his old campaign committee when he thought he would not run again for commissioner. (Lockhart subsequently changed his mind and has created a new campaign committee for his re-election race this year.)

  Roberts joined the golf bandwagon that has been the ticket to major fundraising money for other candidates in the county.  His early September golf event has already brought in a substantial amount for his campaign, with the largest figure– $1,500– coming from NBRS bank for sponsorship of the event’s breakfast.  Roberts also received a donation of $1,000 from Robert “Chick” Hamm, the former President of Mercantile/County Bank who is now an executive with PNC Bank.

 Roberts had numerous smaller donations from residents of Harford County, where he worked in the school system before coming to the Cecil County schools. Roberts has also attracted a number of small donations from Republicans, as well as Democrats.

  Both Tome and Roberts each received $1,000 donations from what was listed as “Perryville Medical Center” with a York, Pa. address. The address is actually that of Stewart and Tate, a heavy construction firm that is also involved in building medical facilities and is part of the Stewart enterprises that are among the largest landowners in Cecil County, with various business parks and gravel mining operations in their portfolio.

  During the campaign, and at a face-to-face matchup at a  forum in North East, each candidate has highlighted his experience in public service in the county and addressed the pressing budget issues facing the local government.  Roberts has painted a dire portrait of the county’s current status and future while Tome has said the county is doing a good job of living within its means and not raising property taxes for recession-strapped homeowners this year. 

  “I think people need to hear the truth,” Roberts told Cecil Times.  He said his message– that the county must develop a “strategic plan” to cope with the impact of the recession– is being “well received”  by voters. And, despite being a veteran educator, he said he has received an “education” from voters in one-on-one conversations about the issues.

  Tome said Roberts was trying to appeal to volunteer fire companies– Tome’s strongest base of political support– with a letter to fire chiefs pledging support for the companies and their equipment needs. Tome cited his own track record of  ensuring that public safety needs in the county are met.  “I’m not just making a lot of campaign promises,” Tome said.

  The Democratic primary in District 4 is one of the most competitive local races on the Sept. 14 ballot. Neither candidate predicted victory, and each said they were not assuming anything or even looking ahead to the general election.

  The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits Diana Broomell against Michael A. Dawson. Broomell lost the 2006 election to Tome. Dawson is a newcomer to Cecil County and is affiliated with the “Young Republicans” faction that is fielding candidates in all Commissioner races this year. Dawson is also a candidate for the GOP Central Committee.

   Broomell has filed an affadavit with the state Board of Elections stating that she has not raised or spent over $1,000 on her campaign.

  Dawson has raised $4,725, including $2,500 from Jill Cappol of Wilmington, DE and $450 from the “Republicans of Cecil” club affilated with the Young Republicans. Dawson has spent $4,314, including $435 paid for his website design to Josue Sierra, another leader of the Young Republicans club.


Cecil County Republican Drama: Moving the Money Around and Around

September 7, 2010

  Our ongoing local political soap opera, centered on the crowded field of warring factions seeking seats on the Cecil County Republican Central Committee,  may have many observers wondering what all the fuss is about. But when you drill deeply into state campaign finance reports, it becomes clear that the fuss is about more than ideology, alliances, and political control. It’s also about money and who gets to decide how, and to whom, to dole out Republican campaign funds.

  At stake in the Sept. 14 Republican primary is not just which faction gets control of the party’s official arm in Cecil County, the  nine-seat Central Committee, but who  will control the Committee’s bank account.  In the most recent filings with the State Board of Elections, the county’s GOP Central Committee had $17,715 cash in the bank, which the committee can contribute to local Republican candidates for their campaigns, as well as fund-raise on behalf of GOP candidates.

 While  that might not seem like a lot of money, it becomes more significant in the context of a new and  evolving strategy by one faction– which is tied to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36)– of moving Republican money around within various new entities, all of which have the same linkages and leaders. And the extent to which money has been moved around, especially in some cases of contested GOP primaries, shows that this is internecine political party warfare not seen in the county in a long time.

  A key aspect of the new strategy is to create or control various political “clubs,” which under state election laws do not have the same financial reporting requirements that an official county Central Committee or a candidate’s campaign has. In general, the clubs do not have to disclose how much money they have, where it came from, or what they do with it.  The only way to find out anything is when their donations to individual candidates or Political Action Committees show up on those candidates’ or PAC’s mandatory campaign finance reports, or when a candidate transfers funds from his/her campaign fund into the political club.

   You need a map to follow the intersecting paths in our drama, although the players in all are virtually identical. There are two key elements: the political clubs and the PACS, and, to a lesser extent, the “slates.”

  The “Young Republicans Club,” the “Republicans of Cecil (ROC)” club, and the Cecil County Republican Women’s Club are center stage in the drama. The YR group and the ROC group share a website, leadership, and fundamental alliance with Del. Smigiel and Sen. Pipkin. The Women’s Club, a venerable institution in the county for many years, was taken over earlier this year by a YR-er, Carrie Taylor. Taylor, the women’s club president, is running in a contested Republican primary for county Treasurer, against William Feehley, and she is also running for GOP Central Committee.

   Other linked entities are the “Republicans of Cecil Fiscal Conservative Team Slate,” which includes Smigiel and Pipkin explicitly and their annointed candidates for GOP Central Committee, plus Jay Jacobs, a Kent Countian who is running for the open delegate seat formerly held by the retiring Mary Roe Walkup. (Jacobs got $200 from  the “Republicans of Cecil”  on Aug.  28, state records show.)The slate includes County Commissioner Jim Mullin (R-1st Dist.),  a longtime Smigiel-Pipkin ally who is running for the GOP Central Committee.

[UPDATE:   Del. Smigiel got the ball rolling when he transferred $500 from his own campaign account to the “Republicans of Cecil” on July 16, according to reports filed with the state. That fund transfer to the club helped prop up the money pot that the club could in turn move around through a PAC and other entities.]

A starring role is being played by the Republicans of Cecil PAC, (ROC PAC) which received $1,500 from the ROC Club on Aug.9 and $1,200 from the Women’s Club on Aug 13– and Lo and Behold, $2,000 from Commissioner Mullin, through his Mullin Appraisal Service business, on Aug. 13.  Mullin has been a major bankroller of some of the YR campaigns, notably Chris Zeauskas, who is running in a contested primary for the GOP nomination for County Commissioner in District 2 as well as the party’s central committee. (See our previous article on the Mullin-Zeauskas financial connection here:     https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/cecil-commissioner-race-mullin-bankrolls-zeauskas/     )

  With that cash in hand, the ROC PAC turned around and transferred $450 to Carrie Taylor’s campaign in two installments in August.  Follow the money: Taylor heads the Women’s Club, which gives money from its treasury to the ROC PAC and then ROC PAC turns around and gives money to her individual campaign fund. Perhaps it would have been too obvious if she got the Women’s Club she heads to donate money directly to her campaign. Under party policy, such clubs are not supposed to donate to individual candidates before a contested primary has been decided. And Taylor IS in a contested GOP primary for Treasurer.

   (In the past election cycle, the Women’s Club made its largest donation, $600, directly to the county Central Committee, state records show. The Club also donated $500 each post-primary to two female Republican candidates, Delegate Walkup and Sheryl Davis-Kohl’s delegate race.)

   Under current state campaign finance rules, there is no clear way of knowing who is donating to the Women’s Club– or the ROC Club, or the YR Club– or how much money is in each club’s bank account.  Only if a declared candidate transfers money from his/her own campaign fund would a donation to the  club show up. And spending by the club would only show up by pouring through a lot of individual  candidate’s reports to see where their donations came from. But the Women’s Club’s hefty donations to the ROC PAC showed up on that PAC’s report.

  In case there was any doubt about loyalties, the ROC PAC also  gave $200 to Sen. Pipkin’s campaign fund on Aug. 24.  And ROC PAC is listed as giving $100 to Del. Smigiel on Aug. 28, with “Republicans of Cecil” donating another $100 to Smigiel on June 24, according to state Election Board records.

ROC PAC also gave $500 to Michael Dunn, who works for Smigiel in his legislative office, on Aug. 19. Dunn is in a multi-candidate contested GOP primary for County Commissioner in Dist. 3.  Another YR-er, Mike Dawson, got $450 on Aug.23.

 With the exception of donations to Pipkin and Smigiel, every one of the ROC PAC’s donations went to people who are running for the county GOP Central Committee, as well as some other local or state office. The political cleverness of the strategy of running for central committee along with another office is that one candidate campaign committee can pay for printing yard signs to get your name out there for both positions.

  ROC PAC deposited its largest donation so far– $1,000– into the campaign fund of YR President Ted Patterson, who is running for the House seat now held by Democrat David Rudolph. Patterson also got some direct money from the Women’s Club (thank you, Ms. Taylor) with a $400 contribution from that club’s funds on Aug. 13. Patterson is also running for a seat on the GOP Central Committee. Conveniently, the treasurer of the ROC PAC is Jillian Patterson, his wife.

  Yes, Dear Readers, we know your head is spinning from all these numbers and interlocking relationships. Take a deep breath, print this news article out, and read it again in the morning. It will all become oh so clear.


As the GOP Central Committee Turns: New Drama Unfolds Online

August 2, 2010

  What is rapidly becoming our favorite local soap opera, “As the Republican Central Committee Contest Turns, ” unveiled a new installment online, with the Facebook announcement of a unified “ticket” led by Young Republicans (AKA “Republicans of Cecil,” AKA the Smigiel-Pipkin team) seeking to take over the nine seats on the GOP Central Committee at stake in this year’s elections.  The group drew in two incumbents from the current Central Committee and shut out any “tea party” candidates.

  At the same time, two Young Repubican (YR)  stalwarts, Chris Zeauskas and Michael Dawson, publicly “dissed” the tea party folks (known locally as the “Cecil County Patriots”) by boycotting the group’s scheduled Monday night candidates’ forum for Republican candidates for County Commissioner. Zeauskas is running for the GOP nomination in the 2nd District against Tari Moore. Dawson is seeking the GOP nomination for Commissioner in District 4, the seat currently held by Democrat Wayne Tome.

 As The Cecil Times reported here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/gop-central-committee-drama-so-many-candidates-so-few-seats/  the July 6 filing deadline for candidates created a political drama at the local Elections Board as 22 candidates filed for just 9 seats on the GOP committee.

  In the latest episode of our local drama, the new YR-led slate for the Central Committee is calling itself the “Cecil County Republican Fiscal Conservative Central Committee Team.” The group includes the usual suspects of the YR group: Ted Patterson, president of the YR and a candidate for state delegate as well as a candidate for county GOP committee; Zeauskas, vice president of the YR; Dawson, who has been the “political director” of YR; Carrie Taylor, a YR-er who recently took over as president of the county Republican Women’s club and is also running for county Treasurer; Joe Tropp, the “vice-chairman” of the new “Republicans of Cecil” (ROC) group that is hosted on the YR website and mirrors the membership of that group; and Michael W. Dunn, a co-founder of YR, the legislative aide to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and also a current candidate in the GOP primary for County Commissioner in District 3.

  Although he doesn’t meet the age-bracket of the YR-ers, County Commissioner James Mullin (R-1st) has signed up for the YR-led Central Committee slate. But he has said he “owes” the YR-ers for volunteering in his successful campaign two years ago. Mullin has also been firmly aligned with the Smigiel-Pipkin camp in the past. (But we ARE wondering what is going on on his Earleville front lawn, which in the past has always displayed huge Pipkin-Smigiel signs but so far this year is only posting small signs for Bob Ehrlich, a Kent County GOP candidate for Delegate, and a local GOP candidate for clerk of the court.)

  Then there are the two “pick-ups” from the incumbent GOP Central Committee: James W. Hutchinson, currently secretary of the committee, and Brad Carrillo, a member.

    The fact that the “tea party” folks who also filed as candidates for the  GOP Central Committee were shunned by the new YR-led slate makes for some interesting dynamics in this emerging contest. That could lead the other incumbent committee members to court some of the five  or six “tea party” candidates who filed for the committee, plus some of the ‘wild card’ candidates, if the remaining incumbents choose to form a slate.  

   One question that has yet to be answered: why are the YR-ers running for everything– state office, county elective office, and county GOP committee slots– simultaneously?  Could it be that someone is channeling that famous line from the movie “Wall Street,” that is scheduled for a sequel to be released this fall?