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.


County Commissioners: Roberts Upsets Tome in Democratic Primary

September 14, 2010

    Former Schools Superintendent Carl Roberts apparently upset incumbent County Commissioner Wayne Tome Tuesday in the Democratic primary for the District 4 Commissioner’s seat, after a well-financed campaign that contrasted Roberts’ dire predictions of fiscal and policy crisis against Tome’s contention that the county was on the right course.

   With all 19 precincts and early voting tallies reporting, Roberts had 2,928  votes to Tome’s 2,492. Roberts garnered 54 percent of the vote to Tome’s  nearly 46 percent.

    (County election officials said late Tuesday that all regular ballots had been counted. However, absentee ballots and provisional ballots will be counted Thursday and next week.)

   Tome, a battalion chief with the Baltimore County fire department and former mayor of Port Deposit, has been a strong supporter of local volunteer fire companies and EMS personnel. However, he drew fire from county Sheriff’s deputies– normally an ally of other emergency responders. Tome and other commissioners opposed legislation drafted by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36,  to impose binding arbitration on negotiations between the county and deputies represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 2.  After a legislative battle in Annapolis, the county commissioners largely prevailed with approval of collective bargaining, which the commissioners always supported, and non-binding arbitration.

   Roberts, who presided over the county schools during a period of population growth and rising test scores for students, nevertheless drew criticism for spiraling costs of running the school system on his watch. During his Commissionercampaign, Roberts blasted the current board of Commissioners, saying they lacked a “strategic plan” to direct county policies, programs and finances for the future.

   The winner of the Democratic primary will face off in November against the winner of the Republican primary. 

    That GOP race, like many other contested Republican races in the county Tuesday, pitted members of a “slate” of candidates fielded by 36th District Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, against non-slate candidates. 

   In the 4th District GOP primary, Diana Broomell, who ran against Tome in the general election four years ago but lost, ran a low-key, low budget primary campaign.  Her  better-financed opponent,  Mike Dawson, a former Prince George’s county police officer, was a member of the “Young Republicans Club” and a member of the Smigiel-Pipkin “slate” of local Cecil County candidates.

   But Broomell narrowly pulled off a 51 percent tally, with  2,908  votes, to Dawson’s 48.8  percent, with 2,777 votes.

     District 3

      The Pipkin-Smigiel slate pounded out a surprise victory in District 3, with the upset win by Michael Dunn, a legislative aide to Smigiel. Dunn registered 2,469 votes, or 42 percent.

        Former County Commissioner Harry Hepbron, who lost a re-election bid in 2006 to current Board of Commissioners President Brian Lockhart (D), came in second place in his comback campaign in the Republican primary Tuesday. Hepbron owns the popular Dove Valley Vineyards and Winery in Rising Sun and served two terms on the county Board of Commissioners before his defeat in the last election. ( Lockhart was unopposed in the Democratic primary Tuesday.) Hepbron received 2,084 votes, or 35.5 percent of the tally.

   Coming in third in Tuesday’s GOP primary voting was Ted Kolodzey, a local “tea party” activist, who surprised attendees at a candidate’s forum this summer when he attacked Smigiel and Pipkin for what he said was an attempt to control county politics and government. “They will destroy this county,” said Kolodzey, who said he had rebuffed attempts to recruit him to a Smigiel-Pipkin slate. Kolodzey received 1,314 or 22 percent.

 District 2

   As in so many local contests this year, District 1 became another Smigiel-Pipkin surrogate contest,  pitting their relatively unknown “slate” candidate, Christopher  Zeauskas, against Tari Moore, a former executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce. But Moore– the non-slate candidate–  won the victory.

    Moore pulled in 3,044 votes, or 52.2  percent, while Zeauskas received   2,784votes, or 47.7  percent.

 The winner of the GOP primary will face Earl Piner, Sr., who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Piner is a former member of the county school board and Eklton town commissioner. He has also coached basketball teams at Cecil College and youth sports teams in the Elkton area.


Kolodzey Blasts Pipkin, Smigiel: “They Will Destroy This County”

August 2, 2010

  A Republican political newcomer lashed out at State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) and Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) Monday night, telling a candidates’ forum sponsored by the local “tea party” group that the duo was trying to stage a take-over of county politics and government and “They will destroy this county.”

  The sharp outburst by Ted Kolodzey, a candidate for the Republican nomination for county Commissioner in District 3, came near the end of the two-hour forum, which was boycotted by three “Young Republican Club” members who are running for Commissioner seats and are aligned with Pipkin and Smigiel. Forum organizers placed three empty chairs at the candidates’ table  with cards bearing their names: Chris Zeauskas, Michael Dunn and Michael Dawson.

  Kolodzey’s accusations came in response to a question about whether he supported the actions by “members of the state delegation” seeking to force the county commissioners to accept collective bargaining with binding arbitration on behalf of Sheriff’s deputies.

  “They only help themselves and that’s all they care about,” he said of Pipkin and Smigiel. “I saw what they were doing, financially, and I had to leave them,” he said. “They’re only fighting for their own interests,” he said, adding, “It’s a disgrace” and “someone has to stand up to them.”

   In an interview with The Cecil Times after the debate, at the VFW hall in North East, Kolodzey said that the Pipkin-Smigiel camp had told him, “If you support what we support we will finance your campaign.” He said no specific figure was mentioned. “But I left them… I can’t be a puppet,” Kolodzey said. He said the Pipkin-Smigiel camp has created and/or supported several Republican groups with different names but which are all “fronts for their agenda.”

   As The Cecil Times reported earlier in the day here, https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/as-the-gop-central-committee-turns-new-drama-unfolds-online/ a “Young Republican”-led slate–dubbed the “Cecil County Republican Fiscal Conservative Central Committee Team” has been created to try to take over the county’s Republican Central Committee in this year’s elections. The Young Republicans Club (YR) is closely aligned with Pipkin-Smigiel and the YR website also hosts a relatively “new” group called “Republicans of Cecil” (ROC) that has overlapping members and leaders with the YR group.

   Kolodzey, of Rising Sun, had initially been aligned with the YR-ers but turned away from the group and has been active in “tea party” activities led by the Cecil County Patriots, which hosted Monday night’s forum for Republican Commissioner candidates. A separate forum for Democratic candidates will be held in a few weeks.

   Donna Caudell, leader of the local Patriots group, said of the YR no-shows at the forum: “I think it’s unfair that they want to represent the people but they don’t want to face the people and answer their questions.”

   Ron Lobos, another leader of the group, said that Dawson and Zeauskas declined their invitation and Dunn, a legislative aide to Del. Smigiel, sent an email a few hours before the event “backing out of the debate.” Lobos congratulated those candidates who did show up for having the “guts” to attend. “If you want to serve the people, you should be strong enough in character to face the people,” he said.

   Kolodzey’s leading opponent in the GOP primary for commissioner, Harry Hepbron, got in a few shots of his own at the state delegation, without mentioning individuals by name, during the forum. “A Commissioner’s job is to represent all the citizens of the county and I don’t think the delegation should have done what they have done.” He added that “I do have a problem when the delegation takes the side of a small group of people” and tries to impose legislation on the Commissioners.  Hepbron served two terms as a county commissioner, until 2006, and is seeking to re-gain his old seat on the board.

   But Pipkin-Smigiel had one defender in the group of candidates: Diana Broomell, former legislative aide to Smigiel and a current candidate for the GOP nomination for Commissioner from District 4. “I don’t  think the state delegation are that big and bad as some people have made them out to be,” she said, adding that she thought the  state delegation functions as “checks and balances” on the county Commissioners.

[The Cecil Times will file a separate report later on other issues raised in the candidates’  forum]


Cecil Commissioner Race: Mullin Bankrolls Zeauskas

February 1, 2010

   In Cecil County, political history often repeats itself, with a few twists and turns.  So it was with surprise, but not shock, that we saw that Cecil County Commissioner James Mullin (R-1st)–with many other “AKA” names  on state campaign finance records– is the chief funder of the campaign of Republican political newcomer Chris Zeauskas, running for the Republican nomination for County Commissioner in the Second District.

   Zeauskas, a leader of the Cecil County Young Republicans Club and the declared president of a group called “Cecil Citizens Against Taxation,” is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd District Commissioner seat currently held by Rebecca Demmler,  a Republican who has declared she is not a candidate for re-election.

   (Another announced candidate for the Republican nomination for the seat is Tari Moore, a former official with the county Chamber of Commerce and the former campaign manager for current Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). The only announced Democratic contender for the seat is Earl Piner, Sr., an Elkton town commissioner, former School Board member and longtime community volunteer and youth sports coach.)

   But there is one real surprise in Zeauskaus’ campaign finance report filed with the state Board of Elections: one of his biggest fundraiser supporters is Democratic candidate for Sheriff Chris Sutton and his campaign organization.  Only in Cecil County…

   Zeauskas’ finance report shows total fundraising of $4,647, with expenses of $4,367. But since the January report is his first, a line item sure to get the attention of State Board of Elections auditors is the listing of a $1,165 “prior balance” in his campaign account, with no disclosure of where that money came from. That said, he lists his net cash on hand as $1,445.

   Under contributions, “Jim Mullin” of “Chesapeake City” (actually, Commissioner James Mullin lives in the Hacks Point community in Earleville),  is listed as donating $1,575–or the vast majority of Zeauskas’ contribution total of $2,142.  Under fundraiser tickets, “Jim Mullin” is listed as the top purchaser, with $450 in ticket purchases to a fundraiser at the Patriots Glen golf clubhouse.

   That makes Commissioner Mullin the top total contributor–$2,025– to Zeauskas’ campaign.

   Zeauskas was an outspoken antagonist to Commissioner Hodge at the county’s January preliminary budget hearing. He did not attack Commissioner Mullin, who also voted for the county’s last budget.

   Chris Sutton, a county Sheriff’s Deputy and second-time Democratic opponent to incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney, shows up as a surprise donor to Republican Commissioner candidate Zeuaskas: Sutton is listed as purchasing fundraiser tickets totaling $225, with another $45 in ticket purchases by Sutton’s campaign treasurer, Patrick Tuer, a “Cecil County Young Democrats” activist.

   The Mullin cash infusion to Zeauskas’ campaign is strangely familiar.  When Mullin ran for county Commissioner in the last election, Republican Commissioner Rebecca Demmler was his chief campaign bankroller, as the Cecil Times reported here:

https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/demmler-bankrolls-mullin-commissioner-payback-time/

   Demmler spent more on Mullin’s campaign than she did on her own. Prior to becoming a county Commissioner, Demmler never held a more financially lucrative job than an occasional substitute teacher job and her husband is a retired boiler operator.  Those facts led many county political observers to wonder whether some other Republican– perhaps a “large” presence in county and state GOP politics– was really the bankroller.  The latest Mullin donations may revive that sort of speculation.

   NEWS UPDATE:  In an interview with The Cecil Times, Zeauskas said his campaign treasurer was working with the State Elections Board to resolve issues surrounding his listing of a previous campaign balance that seemed to be a “mistake.”  He said the bankrolling of his campaign by Commissioner Mullin stemmed from his past volunteer involvement in Mullin’s campaign as a “door to door” campaign volunteer. He said he believed that Commissioner Demmler was planning to support his primary opponent and that he had “nothing personal” against Commissioner Hodge.

   “It wasn’t a budget question,” Zeauskas said of his aggressive questioning of Commissioner Hodge at the January budget hearing. He said he opposed a county takeover of utilities lines from Port Deposit that would serve the proposed Bainbridge complex. He noted that Mr. Mullin opposed that takeover. He said that his primary campaign issue, however, was the budget and county spending.

   As far as Chris Sutton’s support– along with a generous donation from the Cecil County FOP– Zeauskas said he had met with local law enforcement officials to discuss crime and believed they liked his views. He said he supports binding arbitration for Sheriff’s deputies’ labor disputes, a controversial budget issue. Some current Commissioners fear that an outside arbitrator would force the county and its taxpayers to fund a potentially costly labor settlement regardless of county resources. (See Chris Sutton’s comment posted below)

   Zeauskas also said that Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) was not taking an active supportive role in his campaign and had advised him that he would not be involved in the Republican primary for the Commissioner seat.