36th Dist. Senate Surprise: Mumford Beats Alt in Democratic Primary

September 15, 2010

 It was the “Huckleberry Finn” candidate versus the mayor and Huck won in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the 36th District Senate race. Steve Mumford, an actor and dancer from Kent County and one of the most unusual candidates in Shore politics, defeated former Elkton mayor Robert Alt.

   Mumford has described himself as the “Huckleberry Finn” candidate, wearing a colonial tri-corner hat in an Earleville  parade and visiting the homeless at a shelter in Elkton. But he also displayed solid knowledge of local issues, especially those affecting Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. He exceeded expectations in a candidates debate in Centreville, as the Cecil Times reported here:   https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/36th-district-candidates-forum-lots-of-me-too-and-a-surprise/

  Across the district, Mumford won 3,873 votes to Alt’s 3,438, with the margin going to Mumford with 53 percent to Alt’s 47 percent. Absentee and provisional votes will be counted later but Mumford’s lead seems likely to hold.    

  In vote tallies from all precincts in the four-county district, Mumford carried his home base in Kent County with 1,215, to Alt’s 466 votes.  Key to his victory was his strong showing in Queen Anne’s County, where he won 1,531, to 833 votes for Alt.  In the small section of Caroline County included in the district, Mumford won 354 votes to Alt’s 248.

     Alt scored his only victory in his home base of Cecil County, with 1,891 votes to Mumford’s 773.

    Mumford will face  wealthy incumbent Republican E.J. Pipkin in the general election. Mumford ran his primary contest on a shoestring, filing affadavits that he had spent less than $1,000 on his campaign.

    But Mumford, who comes from a well-connected  Kent County political family, has surprised political professionals before and he should provide one of the more entertaining campaigns of the season.


36th District Candidates’ Forum: Lots of “Me, too” and a Surprise

August 19, 2010

CENTREVILLE– Candidates for the 36th District state House of Delegates and Senate seats squared off Tuesday night in a non-partisan issues forum here, with most Republican candidates saying the same things, in the same words, while Democrats had a mixed presentation that even elicited that rare commodity at a candidates’ forum: laughter.

  The forum, sponsored jointly by the Kent and Queen Anne’s counties chapters of the non-partisan League of Women Voters, drew a small crowd of about 45 people. The format of the event placed Democrats  and Republicans in separate panels so there was no back-and-forth between potential general election rivals. In the few contested primary races, rivals were allowed to respond to each others answers. But the format, which drew all questions from people in the audience who could direct which candidate should address it, left out some candidates who were not allowed to address a question if it was not aimed at them. At times, candidates not allowed to answer a question seemed to be chafing at the bit to respond, too.

  That problem was most evident in the Democratic panel discussion.  William Manlove, of Cecil County, who is unopposed in the primary and will face incumbent Republican Del. Michael Smigiel in November, was frequently excluded from answering questions posed to the two Democrats running in the party primary for the chance to challenge incumbent Republican  Sen. E.J. Pipkin in the general election. Robert Alt, the former mayor of Elkton, is running against Steven Mumford, a political newcomer from Chestertown, in the primary for Senate.

(Missing from the panel was Arthur Hock, a Democrat who is running for the Kent County seat formerly held by Mary Roe Walkup, who is retiring.)

  Mumford, who has an eclectic background as a professional dancer and operates a historic homes tour business, drew laughter several times for his comments and demonstrated a mostly solid understanding of Kent and Queen Anne’s county issues. (He didn’t address specific issues regarding Cecil County, which he visited recently to appear at a firemen’s parade, waving a colonial tri-cornered hat.)  Perhaps because expectations were low, his performance at the forum was a surprise.

  On the state budget crisis, Mumford quipped, “Maybe Sen. Pipkin can help us out– he’s a multi-millionaire”  and on whether an additional Bay Bridge crossing is needed to ease traffic congestion, he joked that as a swimming instructor he would provide lessons to anyone willing to make the crossing by water, before discussing the issues seriously.

   Mumford was knowledgable on a key local issue: 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.

  Alt, his primary opponent, admitted he was not up to speed on the issue and said, “I don’t know much about this issue but I’ll try to learn more.” (In comments posted on our short Tuesday night bulletin on the forum, Alt said he has researched the issue further and said it was a tough issue to address at the state level and was best decided by the county government.)

  Manlove said he had “mixed emotions” about weighing the “property rights” of the farmer to sell his land and the jobs the project would create against his concerns that a large farm would be taken out of production, when he has fought for years to preserve agriculture.

  Several questions posed to the Democrats focused on environmental issues, with Manlove outlining his efforts while President of the Cecil County Commissioners to promote “smart growth” policies to limit development in rural areas, keep farms in business and improve water quality through modernization of sewage systems. At one point, the former dairy farmer took exception to a suggestion that farmers were at fault for water pollution: “I resent blaming farmers for all the runoff,” Manlove said, listing other causes such as pavement run-off and failing sewage and septic systems.

  Alt cited his experience working to upgrade municipal wastewater treatment systems. He said a key issue for the state to address is the growing problem of  “saltwater infiltration into drinking water wells” in rural areas on the Shore.

  Alt also offered a suggestion for easing the chronic traffic congestion on Kent Island and Route 50: eliminate the eastbound tolls during peak travel times to end bottlenecks caused by backups at the toll plaza.

   On job creation, Alt said he had “knocked on doors” to bring business to Elkton and would do the same as a state Senator, working with town and county governments in a coordinated effort.  He emphasized his campaign platform to improve communication between local government and the state delegation. (Smigiel and Pipkin have had particularly strained relations with the Cecil County government in recent years.) Mumford, citing his membership in the Screen Actors Guild, said the state should promote the film industry and improve tax breaks to movie companies to shoot films here. Manlove was not allowed to answer the question.

   During the Republican portion of the forum, incumbents Smigiel and Pipkin were joined by incumbent Del. Richard Sossi, who represents Queen Anne’s County. Sossi is being opposed in the Republican primary by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., who also attended the event. (No Democrats have filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat.) Pipkin is facing a GOP primary challenge from Donald Alcorn, but he did not attend the forum. Also present was Jay Jacobs, the mayor of Rock Hall who is running for the Walkup seat against Democrat Hock.

   The Republicans took pretty much the same position on the issues, often using the same words. On FASTC, most said it was a matter  of “property rights” and something to be decided by county government, with the state delegation having no role to play. But Hershey added that FASTC, and another Wye Mills project opposed by environmentalists, showed “The delegation does need to step in and push these types of projects. ”

    Pipkin offered a spirited defense of his environmental record when a questioner asked about his poor ratings on scorecards of the Maryland League of Conservation voters, which has given him marks of zero to below 40 percent in recent years. He cited his work as a private citizen to stop dumping of dredge spoil material in the Bay off Kent  Island and his work in the recent legislative session to bar dumping of rubble fill. He said he was penalized on the scorecard because he opposed a solar energy bill that “sounds nice” but in fact was “crony capitalism” that would have cost consumers millions.

   The most varied responses came to a broad question: what issue is your top priority to benefit the 36th District.

   Smigiel declared that it was to change the state Constitution. He said he wanted to allow local referendum voting on any local tax increase, and to clarify that local government condemnation of property through eminent domain could only be for public uses, like a school. (Smigiel and Pipkin have been at war this year with the Cecil County Commissioners and tried but failed to pass legislation in Annapolis to mandate what property tax levels the county could set.)

   Jacobs took a more down-to-earth approach: stem the “exodus” of small business from the Shore through lower taxes and incentives to encourage entrepeneurship in the area. Pipkin said his priority was to rein in government spending and cut property taxes and he also urged action to lower utility bills. Hershey declared that the “liberal majority in Annapolis” must be stopped and the corporate income tax should be cut.

    Sossi took a broader approach, saying “We dont have the luxury of picking just one issue” to focus on. He said job creation was crucial, through small business incentives and he said he would support a rollback of the one percentage point increase in the state sales tax enacted under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

    Sossi was the only candidate to address issues pertaining to seniors, who represent a growing proportion of Shore residents. He said “affordable housing” has become a serious problem in the district because seniors can’t afford to keep up their homes. He said he favors a change in state income tax law to allow a tax credit to offset income from pensions,  such as some other states provide.


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 Senate: Democratic Dances with Pipkin

July 9, 2010

 Comparing the two Democrats who have filed to run against incumbent Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin in the 36th District Senate race is like comparing the 1960’s Bristol Stomp to a courtly minuet, or the classic English “contra dancing” performed professionally by one of the candidates.

  Former Elkton Mayor Robert Alt gets right to the point: “I would improve communications between the local municipalities and the county with our state delegation. It’s hard to get the state to hear our voices in Annapolis with our state delegation the way it is now.” (How does that old song go: “the kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol when they do the Bristol Stomp…”)

   Steven Mumford, of Chestertown, making his first bid for elected office, said in an interview with The Cecil Times: “I don’t want to say anything bad about Senator Pipkin.”  (Cue the violins for a courtly rendition of Eighteenth Century ballroom dancing in a country castle…)

   The two Democrats will square off in the September primary for the expected chance to oppose Pipkin in November. Pipkin has a GOP primary challenger, Donald Alcorn, who is considered a longshot against the always well-financed (and usually largely self-financed) Pipkin campaign.

  Mumford is a political newcomer but members of his family are firmly planted in the Kent County political soil. His mother, Mabel Mumford-Pautz, is a  long time member of the Chestertown town council from Ward 3 and his brother, Mark Mumford, is Clerk of the Court.

   Mumford currently operates a business offering walking tours of historic houses in Chestertown and with his family has restored historic properties in the area. He has been a professional dancer, appearing in the movie “Wedding Crashers,” and currently dances with English contra dancing groups that peform at historical properties such as Mount Harmon in Cecil County. He has also coached youth swim teams. His Washington College Class of 1986 reunion profile is posted here:  http://1986.washcoll.edu/stevenmumford/

    Alt,49, grew up in Chesapeake City and attended Salisbury State. He was elected to the Elkton town council in 1994 and was elected mayor in 1998 and served until 2002.  He is also a former member of the Cecil County Democratic Central Committee. Alt was named “Outstanding Marylander of the Year” by the Jaycees in 2000 and he was a member of the Maryland Municipal League and served on several committees of the organization.

    Alt sees the problems in Annapolis from the perspective of the towns and counties in the 36th District, which includes about half of Cecil County, part of Caroline County, and all of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. “I’m a municipality guy,” he said, adding that the towns, and in turn the counties, are suffering in difficult economic times and face dwinding aid from the state. That directly impacts local citizens, he said.

    The delegation could do more to promote local economic development, Alt said, and pointed to his own partnership role in re-developing the old Pirelli building in Elkton into a small business “hub” that is now about 40 percent occupied despite the current economic climate.

   Alt said the state delegation should work more co-operatively, both with each other and with the counties and towns on a wide array of issues.  But the current leadership of the delegation,  now chaired by Pipkin ally Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), “doesn’t want to meet and they really don’t want to hear from anyone else,” Alt said. “They only want to have their own way and I believe that is being driven by Sen. Pipkin.”

    Alt said he was concerned with environmental issues and protection of the Bay and noted that Sen. Pipkin has had low scores from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. Alt said he would actively seek support from environmentally-concerned voters. (The League has already endorsed Pipkin’s opponent, Alcorn, in the Republican primary.)

    Until finally filing for re-election a week before the deadline, Pipkin did a few dances of his own:  first tangoing with Andy Harris for a potential re-match in the GOP primary for a shot at the 1st District congressional seat, and then performing a dosie-do over whether to jump into the statewide race for comptroller against incumbent Democrat Peter Franchot. Finally, he decided to dance with the voters who first brought him to the 36th District Senate seat in 2002 and re-stamped his electoral dance card in 2006.

    “I’m not sure Pipkin knows what job he really wants,” Alt observed.

     Mumford said the biggest difference between himself and Pipkin is “I’m from here, the Eastern Shore, and he is not.” Pipkin grew up in Dundalk, in Baltimore county, and moved to Queen Anne’s County after retiring from a career as a junk bond trader in New York. Several years ago, Pipkin sold his waterfront estate and moved to Elkton, but he filed for re-election using a Queen Anne’s County mail box address.

    Mumford grew emotional as he talked about his love for the Eastern Shore, crying a bit as he spoke about growing up swimming in the Bay and “playing in the dirt” of the Shore. “I’m a passionate person,” he said.

    If Pipkin can recall whatever dance was popular in his Dundalk youth, this year’s 36th Senate contest might be a contender for broadcast on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance…”