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.]


Fifth District Commissioner Race: Home Cookin’ and Stewart’s Money

November 3, 2008

  The Republican and Democratic opponents in the Fifth District contest for Cecil County Commissioner have raised comparable amounts of campaign contributions, while write-in candidate Tom McWilliams has a secret weapon: his wife’s home cooking, according to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 24.

    But some supporters of the two major candidates might be surprised at just who is donating to them.

   McWilliams, a perpetual candidate who has previously run unsuccessfully for Commissioner and a school board seat, lost the Republican primary to Robert Hodge, a local businessman and farmer. McWilliams is waging an uphill struggle as a write-in candidate in the November election and has held yard sales and picnics, raising just $886 in direct contributions and $1,050 in fundraiser ticket purchases. He also loaned his campaign $6,000 in October. McWilliams lists $372 in in-kind donations, such as food and drinks for fundraising events. While several people donated appetizers valued at $10, his wife’s culinary contribution was valued at $50. A smart husband knows to compliment his wife’s cooking, even in politics.

     Hodge reports raising a total of $21,405, including loaning his campaign $3,000. His Democratic opponent, Sharon Weygand, reports raising a total of $19,637, with no loans. The candidates are running for the seat now held by Commissioner Mark Guns, who decided not to run for re-election.  Hodge has had a high-profile candidacy all year, with many paid billboard sites on highways around the county.  Weygand seemed to have a lower profile–waving hand-held signs on Route 40– so it is perhaps surprising to see that she raised so much money and had no loans, according to the October reports.  There could still be a last minute infusion of cash on both sides in the last week or so before the election, but we won’t know the final contributions tally until after the election when new reports are filed.

     Weygand’s largest chunk of donations– $3,000– came from two entities related to the Stewart’s land development business: $1,500 from Stewart Associates Land Development, Inc.,  and $1,500 from York Building Products Co. Both firms have the same address in York, PA and are part of the Stewart Companies. Stewart’s, one of the largest landowners in the county, is banking heavily on approval of the statewide slots referendum and has signed an option deal with Penn National gaming that wants to develop a slots facility on Stewart land in Cecil County. York Building Products operates three sand and gravel production sites in Cecil County.

   The Stewart-related donations amounted to more than a quarter of Weygand’s $11,555 in contributions from individuals and businesses. That might surprise some of the no-growth folks who made small donations to her campaign, too.

 Other major donations to Weygand include $1,000 from Klines Live Fish Co. in Chesapeake City; $1,000 from Hutton Farms in Elkton, and $500 from Alice Arbuckle, who ran unsuccessfully for County Commissioner in the last local election and famously advocated county-hosted camel races as a tourist attraction. Weygand also received $345 from the husband (Ron) of County Commissioner Rebecca Demmler,  $200 from former County Commissioner and restauranteur Phyllis Kilby, $100 from retiring County Commissioner Bill Manlove, $80 from Commissioner Wayne Tome and $20 from Commissioner Brian Lockhart. 

    Weygand also received a $1,000 donation from the Political Action Committee (PAC) associated with Lodge 2, Cecil County Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed her candidacy; $500 from the county’s Democratic Central Committee; $750 from the county Democrat Club and $100 from the campaign of Frank Kratovil, the Democratic nominee in the 1st District Congressional contest.

    Weygand did not disclose individual identities for most of the ticket purchasers for her fund-raising events, tallying a total of $5,613 in ticket sales.

   On the Republican side, Hodge reported individual and business donations of $7,140– actually, less than Weygand’s $11,555. Unlike Weygand, Hodge reports amounts and identities for ticket purchases by individuals and businesses, totaling $6,465.

    Hodge’s largest individual donation of $1,000 came from Railroad Associates Corp. of Hershey, Pa. A local business, Graphics Inc., gave $500 plus $500 in ticket purchases, for a total of $1,000. Norman Wehner, a local property owner active with the county landlord’s association, donated $500 plus purchased fundraiser event tickets worth $100. James Buckland, an executive with Artesian water that recently won County Commissioners’  approval for its takeover of county water and sewer facilities, bought Hodge fundraiser tickets worth $150.

 Most of Hodge’s donations were fairly small and many came from recognizable Republicans around the county. Business entities donating included Perrin Accounting of North East ($500 in donations), Priapi Gardens in Cecilton ($200 in ticket purchases); Kingfisher Environmental  Services, Inc., of Elkton ($200 in ticket purchases.) There were also fundraiser ticket purchases from some individuals involved in real estate, such as $250 in tickets bought by Harlan Williams and his wife.

    Hodge also received $2,500 from Republican clubs and $2,200 from the county’s GOP central committee. Del. Dick Sossi (R) bought a $25 fundraiser ticket, as did Republican commissioner 1st District candidate Jim Mullin. Commissioner Rebecca Demmler– a fellow Republican and the chief donor to Mullin’s campaign, giving him $2,500– anted up just $50 for Hodge fundraiser tickets.

   Which just goes to show: in politics, it isn’t always just about politics or party labels.


Pro-Slots Group Slated to get $2 million from Track Owner

September 17, 2008

Supporters of the November referendum to allow slot-machines in Maryland may get a major infusion of cash, as much as $2 million, from Magna Entertainment, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico in Baltimore, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.  That would come on top of an unspcified amount expected to be put into the fray by Penn National Gaming, the Pennsylvania-based company that has an option on part of the Stewart property in Perryville, Cecil County that could host a slots venue if the referendum is approved.

    The Magna money would be use to advance the campaign led by For Maryland For Our Future, the committee co-ordinating the pro-slots effort in the state.  The anti-slots campaign is being headed by Stop Slots Maryland.

    So what’s the money going to be used for? No doubt we will be bombarded with those nasty automated phone calls, negative TV and radio ads from both sides, and lots of litter in our mailboxes to be recycled. But for Cecil County residents, put aside the hype from both sides and the Sunday morning sermons from a vocal group of pastors warning us of the evils of gambling. (Run any bingo games lately, pastor?)

    We already have gambling all over Cecil County: the state-sanctioned off-track betting parlor on Route 40, the fire companies and VFW halls that have perfectly legal gambling with half the proceeds going to local charities, and of course lottery tickets sold in every gas station and convenience store from Perryville to Cecilton. It is just a short drive from Cecil County to the slots at Delaware Park or Dover Downs and recent news reports in the Post and News-Journal have documented all those Maryland slot-players spending their money across the state line.  Despite the dire warnings from the pulpit, no one has documented a spiraling suicide rate in the county from the gambling that is already going on.

    The question for Cecil County voters, a majority of whom have to commute to jobs outside the county since employment prospects are dim here, is why not bring some jobs home? The county has one of the lowest college degree rates in the state– around 16 percent– so hospitality jobs, with benefits as Penn National provides at its PA facilities, would be very welcome for a lot of folks. And for those who complain about rising property taxes, the county’s share of revenues would go a long way toward stabilizing county revenues without putting all the burden on the backs of local taxpayers.

   Gee, pastors, your congregation might even have a few extra bucks to put in the collection plate on Sundays…

    The Post report :  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/16/AR2008091603054.html