Cecil County Exec-elect Moore Changes Party from GOP to Unaffiliated; Move Blocks Smipkins from Filling her Council Seat
In a bold move to launch her administration as County Executive without the partisan warfare that has stymied Cecil County government for the past two years, Tari Moore changed her political party affiliation on Thursday from Republican to Unaffiliated—a move that will block the Smipkin political faction from controlling who will fill her soon to be vacated seat on the new County Council.
Additionally, the step makes it highly unlikely that Commissioner/Council member Diana Broomell (R-4) would get enough votes to become President of the new County Council.
Moore walked into the county’s Board of Elections office in the county administration building in Elkton shortly after noon Thursday and filled out the paperwork to change her political party affiliation, sources said. That means that when she officially resigns her council seat on Monday 12/3/12, so as to be sworn in as the county’s first-ever County Executive, her council seat is not aligned with any political party.
[UPDATE: In a brief email to Cecil Times Thursday night, Moore confirmed her shift to "unaffiliated" and said: "I have done so only after long and careful consideration, and because I believe that the best interests of all Cecil County citizens should outweigh my own personal preferences in this matter." She declined to elaborate on her rationale for the move until she is sworn into office on Monday.]
As a result, the county’s Republican Central Committee—which is controlled by a political group aligned with state Del. Michael Smigiel and E.J. Pipkin, both R-36– will be cut out of the process to hand-pick Moore’s successor on the Council. And in practical terms, it means that Moore will ultimately get to make her own choice of a successor without being forced to select someone from a list of three names submitted by the Smipkin group.
Behind-the-scenes pressure had been building on Moore for several weeks to take the “unaffiliated” step, on a temporary basis. (She could change her party affiliation back to Republican in the future.) On 11/15/12, Cecil Times published a detailed scenario on how the unaffiliated option would play out and how it would bring to an end the reign of the “Three Amigos” faction on the current five-member Board of Commissioners.
[SEE previous Cecil Times Analysis here:
The new Charter form of government approved overwhelmingly by county voters in 2010 specifies the procedures for filling the vacancy in the District 2 seat currently held by Moore. Since she was registered as a Republican, the local Republican Central Committee had already begun its role in the process and was slated to interview candidates before producing a list of 3 names to be sent to the County Council.
Under the Charter, the Council would have had to pick a name from that list. But the political reality was that the Council would have likely deadlocked, with Councilman Robert Hodge (R-5) and new member Alan McCarthy (R-1) on one side and holdover Two Amigos Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3) on the other. In the event of a deadlock in the Council, the new Executive would make the choice—but the Charter would have limited her to a selection from the list of nominees picked by the GOP Central Committee.
Any list of nominees compiled by the Smipkin-dominated Central Committee would no doubt have pledged full allegiance to their mentors and as a result a new version of the Three Amigos would have emerged, with a new member replacing defeated Commissioner James Mullin (R-1). The Three Amigos domination of the Board of Commissioners has tied up the panel in knots for nearly two years, with Moore and Hodge usually on the losing side in 3-2 votes on many issues.
A highlight of the “unaffiliated” scenario is that it also makes it improbable that Broomell would win the necessary three votes to become President of the new County Council. Broomell often controlled the Commissioners agenda, with Mullin as a willing partner. Broomell, who lost the GOP primary for County Executive to Moore, would have no doubt been a foil and roadblock for the new County Executive’s legislative and administrative agenda.
But the “unaffiliated” route puts Hodge into the forefront as the potential permanent President of the new Council. The President is selected by fellow Council members. Hodge recently won re-election to his 5th District seat and would be the longest-serving, most experienced member of the new Council. Once Moore’s seat is filled, a three-member majority could install the new President.
However, even before Moore’s seat is filled there is the possibility of selection of an interim or acting President of the Council.
Meanwhile, under the “unaffiliated” playbook, the Council would propose an appointee to fill Moore’s vacated Council seat. In political reality, the 2-2 lineup would likely fail to reach agreement on an appointee.
That would free Moore to fill the seat, as long as the candidate resides in the 2nd District. The Charter does not mandate that the Executive has to choose anyone whose name might have been tossed into the ring during the Council’s deliberations under the "unaffiliated" seat state of play.
One possible sidelight is that the GOP Central Committee might go ahead and offer its own list of names, even though they would have no authority under the Charter to do so once Moore’s seat is officially vacant and “unaffiliated.” But Moore would not be obligated to consider that panel’s choices.
A leading candidate, both for nomination by Hodge and McCarthy as well as consideration by Moore, is Joyce Bowlsbey, who headed the citizens’ panel that wrote the Charter that voters overwhelmingly approved. Bowlsbey, a Republican who supported Moore’s election as County Executive, is a longtime community volunteer and activist and serves as the government relations committee chair for the Chamber of Commerce. She has attended most commissioner worksessions and is up to speed on many key issues facing the county government.
Former Republican County Commissioner Rebecca Demmler—who held the District 2 seat before Moore—has previously declared her interest as well. Both Bowlsbey and Demmler are said to be interested only in serving out the remaining two years of Moore’s term and would not be candidates for re-election in 2014, sources said.
Cecil Times reached out to Moore with several phone messages and email seeking comment on her strategy and rationale for the switch. (She and her husband, Steve, were celebrating their wedding anniversary on Thursday.) We will update this report upon her response.
[UPDATE: The following is the text of an emailed statement from Moore to Cecil Times Thursday night:
"Today I filed with the County Board of Elections to change my voter affiliation to one who is unaffiliated with any political party.
"I have done so only after long and careful consideration, and because I believe that the best interests of all Cecil County citizens should outweigh my own personal preferences in this matter.
"I will discuss this decision during my remarks to the citizens of Cecil County on Monday afternoon at 12:00 noon (December 3rd), when I take the oath of office as the county’s first County Executive.
I believe that it is appropriate to provide a full explanation of the matter at that time, and hope that you will attend and listen to what I have to say then.
"This concludes my comments on this matter until Monday afternoon."]