Dist. 36: Sossi Melts Hershey on Campaign $, GOP Primary Endorsement Tiff

September 6, 2010

  Incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) is melting the campaign finances of his Republican primary challenger, Steve Hershey, who features a modified version of the chocolate bar in his campaign signs and ads.  But a last-minute flap over which candidate is endorsed by Robert Ehrlich, the expected Republican candidate for governor, has really heated things up.  

   Since no Democratic candidate has filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat in the 36th, the GOP primary will decide that race. (There are three Delegate seats in District 36 and one resident Delegate each from Queen Anne’s, Kent and Cecil Counties is  elected by voters in those counties, plus half of Caroline County.)

   Sossi also had no opposition in the GOP primary until a last minute challenge was filed by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., of Queenstown. (See previous Cecil Times report on the contest here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/36th-delegate-seat-with-gop-friends-like-this-who-needs-democrats/  )

   Sossi has been ahead in the campaign fundraising race by a better than 3-to-1 margin but in the final days leading up to the Sept. 14 primary, the contest has taken on a war of words twist.

    Hershey recently sent out a four-page flyer, citing his past state employment as a political appointee during the Ehrlich administration in Annapolis. The flyer seemed to suggest that Ehrlich, who is hugely popular among Republicans in his bid for another term as governor against incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley, was endorsing Hershey for the Delegate’s seat.

 That made Sossi see red. Sossi had received permission from the Ehrlich campaign to post his own campaign signs in tandem with Ehrlich’s around the 36th District and Ehrlich had earlier endorsed incumbent Republicans seeking to retain their seats in the House of Delegates. (Hershey has been pairing his signs with those of Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36. Hershey was the campaign treasurer for Pipkin’s failed bid for Congress two years ago.)

  So Sossi took to his Facebook page (  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/richard.sossi?v=wall&ref=mf  ) and he wrote on his “wall” about the “endorsement” flap:  “Tis the election season. Because  a very slick mailer, albeit misleading and specifically not approved, implied endorsement of my primary opponent, the Ehrlich campaign has taken the extraordinary step of approving a press release reaffirming his endorsement of my election.”

   In the press release, supplied by the Sossi campaign, Ehrlich “reaffirmed” his support of Sossi: “Dick Sossi has a track record of fighting for our constituents and I look forward to once again working with Dick to return Maryland to a sound financial footing and to getting our fellow Marylanders back to work.”   The press release also quoted Ehrlich as saying, “”There are some folks that talk the talk, but Dick Sossi walks the walk.” 

  In the latest Sept. 3 campaign finance reports to the State Board of Elections, Hershey does not include costs related to the controversial flyer. In his previous report, Hershey does include  $850 in expenses, paid to a Georgia company, to set up his website, www.hersheyfordelegate.com . However, that site does not comply with Maryland elections law requirements for an “authority” tagline, stating the name of the campaign treasurer. His website has a box, stating “Paid for by Friends of Steve Hershey” but does not include the authority line or treasurer’s name.

   Hershey’s campaign has been largely financed by a $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign, with just $942 in individual contributions, including several from family members. His latest Sept. 3 report listed $2,018 in expenses for printing yard signs and tee shirts but did not cover costs of a flyer mailing by a direct mail operation. Hershey’s report showed $$7,702 cash on hand for the final days of the primary campaign.

   Meanwhile, Sossi still had $36,345 cash on hand, after a year-long fundraising push and spending for campaign ads, printing, signs and mailings.  Most of the contributions to his campaign have been relatively small and based within the district. But in the most recent report, he received a $1,000 donation from the Maryland Realtors Political Action Committee. 

   Sossi’s report showed $1,815 for mailings by a direct mail business, which he said covered two mailings to district residents: one to newly registered Republicans in the district and another to senior citizens.

   Cecil Times has called Hershey for comment and will update this report upon his response.

UPDATE: In the final days before the primary election, Hershey has sent out a slick four-page flyer, with pictures of Sossi purporting to show him nodding off or sleeping in the House chamber and accusing him of “sleeping on the job.”  The Hershey attack flyer asserts “only your vote will wake Sossi up.”  If the pictures were taken on the House floor, the angle is such that they would have had to have been taken by another Delegate or a Delegate’s legislative aide, since average citizens are not allowed on the floor. The flyer does not state a date or time when the pictures were shot, but the House often holds late into the night sessions.

   Reaction to the flyer in the District has been swift and angry. On his Facebook page,    http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi      Sossi received support from Republicans and citizens who denounced the attack as “dishonest” and “slime.”  Sossi called the attack a “dirty tricks smear campaign” and said constituents had expressed “disgust both with my opponent and his puppet-master.”

   In case there was any doubt, the “sleep” flyer from Hershey was followed up by a separate flyer mailed to District residents by Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) declaring Pipkin’s endorsement of Hershey. The Pipkin flyer listed his own re-election campaign as the source of funds to pay for the mailing. (Pipkin is opposed in the Repubican primary by Donald Alcorn.)

   The Hershey “sleep” mailer appears to have been planned well in advance as a last-minute ploy and seems to explain what had been a puzzling buzzword of his campaign: “energetic.” Sossi has long been the most “energetic” Delegate in the 36th, keeping a grueling schedule of attending community events in the sprawling, four-county district. Hershey has claimed he is the more “energetic” candidate on his campaign materials. It now appears it was all stage-setting for his last-minute attack flyer on Sossi.

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BULLETIN: 36th Dist. Candidates’ Forum–a Surprise Amidst the Yawns

August 17, 2010

CENTREVILLE– Candidates for the three state Delegate seats and lone state Senate seat at stake in this year’s elections fielded questions from the audience here  Tuesday night at a League of Women Voters forum, with the surprise of the evening the strong performance by Steven Mumford, a first-time candidate from Chestertown seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate.

   Mumford, with an eclectic background that includes work as a professional dancer and membership in the Screen Actors Guild, was knowledgable about local Kent and Queen Anne’s County issues, including the “FASTC” project that would have brought a federal State Department security training center to a large Queen Anne’s County farm. The project was initially welcomed by local officials but they backpedaled after pressure brought by local anti-growth groups and the federal government withdrew the proposal.

   Mumford said that while the 400 or so jobs the facility would have brought to Queen Anne’s were “lost” to that county, the project might still be salvaged and located in Kent or Caroline counties in the 36th District. He said he had talked with local economic development officials who were working with some local farmers interested in offering their property for the facility. “It’s not a dead issue yet,” he said.

   His opponent in the Democratic primary, Robert Alt, the former mayor of Elkton, admitted he was clueless about FASTC: ” I don’t know much about this issue but I’ll try to learn more,” he said.

   Mumford also addressed problems with the Kent County recycling program and Bay Bridge-related traffic problems on Kent Island.

   The forum,  sponsored by the Kent and Queen Anne’s chapters of the League, had Democratic candidates appearing on one panel and Republicans on a separate panel. In addition to Mumford and Alt, Democrat William Manlove, of Cecil County, a candidate for Delegate in Dist. 36, also participated. The lone no-showDemocratic candidate was Arthur Hock, candidate for the Kent County Delegate seat in the district.

   Republicans attending were incumbent Sen. E.J. Pipkin; Del. Richard Sossi, incumbent Delegate from Queen Anne’s County and his GOP primary opponent, Stephen  S. Hershey; Jay Jacobs of Rock Hall, running for the Kent County Delegate seat; and incumbent Del. Michael Smigiel of Cecil County. Donald Alcorn, who is opposing Pipkin in the GOP primary, did not appear.

(The Cecil Times will file a complete report on the event later.)


36th Delegate Seat: With GOP Friends Like This, Who Needs Democrats?

July 28, 2010

   Queen Anne’s County Democrats have taken a pass on fielding a candidate for that county’s resident Delegate in the 36th District but incumbent Republican Richard Sossi got a last-minute challenge from an unexpected source: the former campaign treasurer for fellow 36th District Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s failed race for Congress two years ago.

   Stephen S. Hershey, Jr. of Queenstown, an unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Queen Anne’s County commissioner and a political appointee in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, filed his candidacy for the Delegate seat on July 6, the last day to file. No Democrat filed by that deadline to seek that party’s nomination for the seat and the county’s Democratic Central Committee had until July 21 to appoint a candidate to run.  But state election records show no such candidate was put forward.

   Hershey, a commercial real estate executive, served as an assistant secretary of the state Department of Planning and also as an assistant secretary in charge of state property management in the Department of Natural Resources in the Ehrlich administration. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that Hershey was one of three “political appointees'” named by Ehrlich to newly created top positions at the planning agency. ( http://www.latimes.com/features/bal-jobs061603,0,5461236,full.story )

   In the 2008 election season, Hershey served as the campaign treasurer for E.J. Pipkin’s failed attempt to obtain the Republican nomination for the First District Congressional seat.  Federal Election Commission records show that Hershey, as treasurer, was cited for failure to file a required campaign finance report for the Pipkin campaign account and the campaign was fined $250 in September, 2009.

   In an interview with The Cecil Times, Hershey said he “had a lot of conversations,” including with Pipkin, about filing in the GOP primary for the House of Delegates seat. Since there was a period of uncertainty over Pipkin’s plans and whether he would run for his Senate seat again, “there were a number of us discussing the Delegate’s seat,” Hershey said. (If Pipkin had given up his Senate seat to run for another office, possibly state Comptroller, Sossi was expected to seek the Senate seat and give up his House seat.)

  Pipkin filed for re-election to his Senate seat on June 30, a week before Hershey filed for the Delegate’s race. Sossi filed for re-election to his House seat nearly a month before Hershey filed.

  “I think the timing was still correct” to run for the Delegate’s seat, Hershey said, adding that “most people I talked to about it” did not oppose his getting into the race. ( He did not speak to Sossi before filing.)

   “Everyone who knows me knows I’m a hard worker,” Hershey said.

    Hershey, 46, a native of Bowie, MD, has lived in Queenstown for more than ten years. He graduated from Catholic University and holds an MBA degree from George Washington University. He has been active in Queen Anne’s County GOP groups, including the Republican Central Committee and the county’s Republican Club. He has also done volunteer work and coached youth football.

   State campaign finance records show he donated $500 to Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006, a modest amount to have been rewarded with a plum assistant secretary’s job paying more than $74,000. Hershey said he worked hard as a volunteer for Ehrlich’s campaign. The state records also show Hershey donated $300 to Pipkin’s 2006 Senate re-election campaign. He has also made donations to the county Republican Central Committee but not to Sossi’s campaigns.

    Sossi, who has been aggressively fund-raising for more than a year in anticipation of a possible state Senate seat run, is well-positioned financially for a re-election bid  to the House and the fact that Democrats chose not to challenge him means he can aim most of his considerable warchest at Hershey in the GOP primary.   

     Sossi didn’t seem particularly concerned about Hershey’s late entry into the primary, telling The Cecil Times, “Well, he paid his filing fee, that’s his right.”  But, Sossi added, “I still haven’t heard why is he really running.”

   However, the political signs going up all over the 36th District might tell the tale.  In southern Cecil County, individual Hershey signs have been posted in clusters with joint  signs touting the candidacy of Pipkin and his comrade-in-GOP-arms, Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36. Our spies in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties tell us the same thing is going on there. Hershey’s small signs are brown and look like the candy bar of the same name, but with a few modifications to probably keep the trademark lawyers at bay.

   Individual Sossi signs are showing up in the company of joint Ehrlich for Governor and Andy Harris for Congress signs in Kent and Queen Anne’s, our spies tell us.  

   Sossi has been carving out an increasingly independent course from the Pipkin-Smigiel duo. He refused to co-sponsor their attempt to impose from Annapolis a  mandated Cecil County property tax rate on the county commissioners.  The Pipkin-Smigiel legislation was killed in Annapolis– an embarassing outcome for local lawmakers’ sponsorship of a local bill– after the Cecil County Commissioners hired a lobbyist and commissioners personally appeared in Annapolis to oppose the Pipkin-Smigiel gambit.

 (On their own, the Cecil County Commissioners cut the local property tax rate and potential revenues to the county in the new Fiscal 2011 budget, cutting the past rate to the “constant yield” tax rate. But, to meet their bare bones budget, the Commissioners then cut popular services such as free recycling of plastic bottles and cans at the county landfill.  Smigiel and Pipkin have attacked the Cecil County Comissioners repeatedly on tax issues but have been notably silent on the recycling and trash “fee” increase imposed by the majority Republicans on the five-member county board. One Democrat opposed it and the other Democrat abstained.)

     Sossi was the top vote getter in the 2006 House of Delegates races in the district. Under the arcane system for voting in the district, three Delegates are elected but each must be a resident of Cecil, Kent OR Queen Anne’s Counties. Residents of each county, as well as three precincts in Caroline County, cast ballots for three Delegates to represent the District. (In Cecil County, about half of the county is in the district, including southern Cecil, Elkton and a few westward precincts.)

   Sossi  is a graduate of the University of Colorado and served five years in the U.S. Navy, including duty in Vietnam. He also served his country as a deputy branch chief of the super-secret National Security Agency and received advanced training in Chinese language studies and cryptology.  Before running for political office, he owned and operated a military antiques store.