State Candidates’ Forum: ‘Who’s on First’ and Other Routines

September 29, 2010

  Like the old Abbott and Costello comedy routine (” Who’s on First?”) or the vintage comic strip of Alphonse and Gaston (“After you,sir”  and “No, After You”), the candidates forum for Cecil County’s District 36 Senate and House of Delegates seats Tuesday night was an entertaining sideshow in an otherwise routine  evening of multiple candidates’ recitation of their resumes and “vote for me” appeals.

  The forum, hosted by the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce at Cecil College, let candidates have four minutes to speak to an audience of about 200 people, without any questions from a panel or moderator, and it was not set up for back and forth debate among candidates. The groundrules scheduled incumbents to speak first, followed by their election opponents. That was fine with all the other candidates for state-level office –but not Cecil County’s District 36 leadership.

   When incumbent Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s name was called, he was not present in the auditorium. (In fact, he was seen waving from his truck, about a half-mile down the road from the college shortly before the forum began at 6:30 p.m.)  So his Democratic rival Steve Mumford, of Kent County, went first. Pipkin then arrived in the hall at about 7:05 p.m., after the forum had moved on to other contests.  Pipkin was seen getting a briefing from one of  his GOP colleagues, and when he finally got up to speak indicated he knew exactly what Mumford had said.

    Then in the District 36 Delegate contest, incumbent Republican Michael Smigiel angrily demanded that he should not have to go first in the lineup. His opponent, Democrat William Manlove, had informed Chamber officials that he could not attend because his wife, Mary, was undergoing major surgery on Tuesday and he needed to be with her. Manlove had asked that a brief statement from him be read at the event.

    Smigiel protested that no statement should be allowed and that at the least he should be permitted to speak after any statement from his opponent was  read because he thought it would be “antagonistic” to him. (He also attacked the editor of the Cecil Times as “an antagonist of mine.”)  The crowd began to boo him, and the Chamber moderator suggested that the audience decide the batting order. The boos intensified and Smigiel then relented and went to bat first.

    “Yes, I have a reputation,” Smigiel began angrily.  “I don’t only vote right, I fight.” He went on to list his many lawsuits against the state, the Governor, the Comptroller and others. One of his lawsuits challenged the referendum that allowed slots, including the Hollywood casino that opened this week in Cecil County to much media attention on the over 300 local jobs it has created.

   “Slots are OK,” he said, “but they don’t belong in our Constitution.”  He went on to list his endorsements, including business groups, Maryland Right to Life and the National Rifle Association and the local FOP Lodge. He said his top priorities were to “fight to keep the taxes down, cut spending and create private sector jobs.”

   And the Manlove statement that so worried Smigiel? It consisted largely of a long recitation of his resume, including four terms as a County Commissioner and membership on numerous regional agency boards.  There were also the controversial statements that he has a dog, Max, obtained from an animal rescue group and he is proud that his grandson will become the sixth generation of his family to operate the family farm.  Manlove also disclosed that “our prayers were answered and the doctors tell us that [Mary] will make a full recovery” from her surgery.

    The audience politely applauded the statement and Smigiel, with his head bowed, joined in.

   In the Senate contest, Mumford stepped up to the plate and swung hard, saying District 36  “deserves better leadership” in Annapolis and a delegation that will “listen to our leaders back home and not hold our leaders hostage.”  He directly challenged Pipkin on a volunteer firefighters’ retirement bill, which he said his opponent tried to block, and a fight with Cecil County leaders on a special taxing district bill that was passed by the General Assembly despite Pipkin’s determined efforts to block it.

   Mumford said he would be more resonsive to constituents, with a “visitor’s chair” always available for constituents to meet with him, and would not simply “wave” at people driving by on the road. “I’m a  local boy and I’ll be there” for citizens and local government leaders, he said.

   Pipkin said he learned that he had “missed a great ripping” from Mumford during his absence from the auditorium. He defended his practice of sign-waving on roadsides, saying that in rural areas the side of the road “becomes like an office” and constituents stop to talk to him and express their concerns. He summed up his platform as “jobs, lower government spending, lower taxes.”

    The incumbent said he had already helped bring jobs to the District with the opening of an emergency medical facility in Queen Anne’s County and worked to expand health education programs at Chesapeake community college to train future healthcare workers.

  In other contests, incumbent Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R), who represents western Cecil and part of Harford county, touted her record as a fiscal conservative, saying “I have voed against all of [Gov.] O’Malley’s tax hikes” and said she had put in the first bill seeking to repeal a one percentage point increase in the state sales tax that was enacted under O’Malley. She said the state had fallen from 24th to 45th place on national lists of business-friendly states under the O’Malley administration.

   Her Democratic opponent, Art Helton, who served in the state Senate many years ago, emphasized his campaigning in the Cecil County portion of the district.  (Both Helton and Jacobs live in Harford County.) He pledged to help Cecil County get state aid to build needed infrastructure in the I-94/Rt. 40 growth corridor. Helton also said he would be more inclusive than his opponent and would “not just represent a narrow viewpont” on issues.

  In the other contested Delegate’s race in Dist. 36, for the Kent County seat formerly held by the retiring Mary Roe Walkup, Republican Jay Jacobs presented a down-home self- portrait: “I’m a blue collar public servant,” he said. “I’m not there for the pictures, I’m down in the ditch.” Jacobs is the mayor of Rock Hall and operates a kitchen contracting business.

    His Democratic opponent, Arthur Hock, whose family has run the antiques and furniture auction facility in Crumpton for many years, said he would be “a voice of conservative independence” and would be “a voice in Annapolis that will be heard and respected.”  He pledged to be a “bridge builder” between local governments and the state.

   Incumbent Democrat David Rudolph (Dist. 34B) cited his efforts on behalf of all residents of Cecil County, not just those who live in his district. He said the state delegation should work together “as a team and make sure we get our fair share” of state aid for the county. His Republican rival, Theodore Patterson, did not show up for the forum.

   Michael Dawson (not the same person who lost a GOP primary bid for county commissioner) said he was running as a Constitution Party candidate against Rudolph as an “everyman” candidate who would “give my heart, give my soul” to represent the interests of his constituents.