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Cecil County Politics: A Tale of 3 Mayors in Port Deposit

March 18, 2011
By Nancy Schwerzler

Cecil County’s smallest town, Port Deposit (population 653 in the latest census) is gearing up for a vigorous campaign for mayor, with one current and two former mayors contending for the post in the upcoming May town election. It is a study in contrasts between small town dedication to service and some of our county-wide agenda-driven politics.

Current Mayor Kerry Anne Abrams, a public schools paraprofessional assigned to Bainbridge elementary, has more time on the job than her rivals, Wayne Tome—also a former Cecil County Commissioner—and Rob Flayhart. Abrams served as mayor from 1996-99, filling a vacancy, before being elected in her own right in 2007.

Tome served as the town’s mayor from 1999 to 2003, when he lost to Flayhart, who served as mayor from 2003 to 2007.

Port’s residents are a hardy lot, stoically braving intermittent flooding from the adjacent Susquehanna River on a regular basis when the up-river Conowingo dam opens its floodgates as it did recently. It is a town of hopes and dreams, from its long ago heyday as a bustling port through decades of dwindling commerce and the closing of the Bainbridge naval facility to more recent dreams of revival and rebirth that often seem just out of reach.

The local mayoral election is run on a non-partisan basis and candidates’ political party affiliation is not even mentioned when they file to run. We can’t imagine some of the trappings of county-wide campaigns, such as slick flyers, candidate slates and robocalls at dinnertime, intruding on the local concerns of the contest.

“We’re not about what party you are from; that doesn’t play a role here,” said Abrams, who also served on the six-member town council in the past.

Abrams sees the unique quality of the town as influencing its politics. “There is a community spirit,” she said. And where some have questioned the top-heavy local government with a six-member council plus a mayor and a town administrator, Abrams says it has its advantages. “Everybody is really a stakeholder in the future and the progress we make,” she told Cecil Times Thursday.

But that doesn’t mean that the gloves won’t come off in the current campaign.

Tome, who lost his re-election bid as a Cecil County Commissioner in the Democratic primary last year, listed a litany of problems that he said have either not been addressed or dealt with in a too little, too late fashion. (Tome said his run for mayor did not mean he was ruling out running for any other county or state position in the next few years but felt he needed to speak out now on town issues.)

“It’s all about leadership,” Tome said in an interview with Cecil Times. He cited problems with trash and debris around town and said there had been a failure of “leadership and supervision” of town employees. He said the current administration had not pushed hard enough on economic development issues and was “passive” on belated attempts to get some of the local impact aid from the Perryville casino for Port Deposit, which is being affected by the new slots parlor.

Tome has attended recent meetings with county officials to argue the case for impact aid for Port, citing fire company and ambulance calls to local emergency responders even though the town of Perryville is the first-responder for the facility. (Tome, a battalion chief for many years with the Baltimore County fire department, is also a long-time official of the local Water Witch volunteer fire company.) He also points out that the casino is directing traffic through the town on its website so as to divert visitors from having to pay the high I-95 tolls.

The town administration put in a last-minute request for impact aid recently but the current County Commissioners said the town or local fire companies could only apply for a one-time grant, getting in line with countywide non-profit groups and organizations to compete for a piece of a $500,000 grant fund. The county government receives 65 percent of the local impact aid generated by the casino while Perryville receives 35 percent.

“We need to show a little more pride,” he said, and “make our case” on the need for impact aid as well as getting the federal government to take responsibility for environmental clean-up of the Bainbridge site.

The state-established Bainbridge Development Corporation that is responsible for re-developing the site, which was annexed into the town of Port Deposit during Tome’s administration, announced in January that the project was at a standstill due to belated discovery of environmental problems that could cost up to $10 million to rectify.

“We need to aggressively work with our Congressional delegation to get the Navy to take responsibility for cleaning up the problems they left behind” at Bainbridge, Tome said.

Abrams defended her administration and said she had taken the initiative to make sure that the Bainbridge project could eventually go forward by guaranteeing water and sewer service. When the proposed developer backed out of promises to provide water and sewer service for the site, “we stepped up to the plate” and arranged for a county takeover of sewage treatment services from the town and sold water facilities to the private Artesian service provider.

“We were able to secure the needed capacity and stability to prove that Bainbridge could grow,” Abrams said.

Cecil Times has called the third ‘mayor’ in the contest, Flayhart, for comment and will update this report upon his response.

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One Response to Cecil County Politics: A Tale of 3 Mayors in Port Deposit

  1. Mike Burke on June 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Folks might like to know what the status of the BDC and the Bainbridge property as a whole might be today as of 2013. Is there any movement at all in the rehabilitation of this property, the sad state of disrepair in the Tome buildings? The Navy might have left behind a big mess but so did Job Corp. For the sake of conversation what is the present status of what’s going on or “not” going on at Bainbridge?

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