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…”

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