Cecil County Chatter: New Year– New Democrats’ Group in First Dist., New Shopping in Cecilton

January 7, 2013


Humorist Will Rogers once observed, “I belong to no organized party—I’m a Democrat,” and on the Eastern Shore Democrats have been largely on the losing end of organizational success in the past few elections. But Dr. John LaFerla, a Chestertown Democrat who unsuccessfully sought to unseat Republican Rep. Andy Harris (R-1) last year, is hoping to organize a regional Democratic group to lay groundwork for party gains in 2014 elections at local and regional levels.

“Considering our poor results in the recent election, we have a lot of work to do to make our District winnable for Democratic candidates,” La Ferla wrote to supporters in a recent email. “I, myself, plan to run again for Congress to oppose our Tea Party incumbent in 2014, and I need your help,” he wrote. He sketched out an organizational agenda to unify Democrats in the far-flung First congressional district.

“We in Congressional District 1 (CD-1) live in the largest district in Maryland by area, composing 3653 square miles, but we have the lowest population density. Though we are all accustomed to driving long distances, our low density makes it hard to communicate in person and hard to foster development of strong Democratic organizations. One approach to this problem is regionalization,” La Ferla said.

To that end, he is convening three meetings this month to try to get Democrats working together on the party’s future in the region. The first session, covering Talbot, Caroline, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties, will be held Saturday 1/12/13 at 10:00 AM at the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Chestertown. Another session covering the lower Shore will be held the following Saturday in Salisbury and the final meeting—covering Cecil, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties—will be held in Bel Air on 1/26/13 at an as yet unspecified location.

The party registration numbers and the re-drawn boundaries of the First District gravitate against any sudden reversal of Democratic fortunes district-wide. The re-districting crammed District 1 with Republicans, thus solidifying Harris as the state’s lone Republican in Congress. Harris initially won the seat in 2010 by defeating moderate Democrat Frank Kratovil, who held the seat for one term.

Democrats’ disarray was evident in the fiasco of last year’s election, when Democratic nominee Wendy Rosen was forced to resign after it was disclosed she had voted in both Maryland and in Florida in past elections. She is currently facing charges stemming from the matter. LaFerla lost to Rosen in the party primary by a handful of votes and after her exit too late in the year to have her name removed from the ballot, LaFerla waged a thankless write-in campaign against Harris in November.

LaFerla may seem like he is tilting at windmills in his party re-organization effort, but he is hoping to boost Democratic chances from the ground up— starting with efforts “to identify, encourage, and train individuals in our midst who may make good candidates for local offices such as mayors, school boards, sheriffs, town and city council, county commissioners, county executives, as well as Delegate/Senator.”

Until a few years ago, Cecil County Democrats held their own and at times majority control on the Board of Commissioners. But in 2010, as well as the 2012 races for the new County Executive and two seats on the new County Council, Republicans swept to power. For the first time, GOP registration narrowly surpassed that of Democrats in the county.

Cecil County Republicans have been beset by intra-party feuds and rivalries but they have still carried the day at the polls. Democrats had their best shot to upset the local political applecart with the candidacy of Pam Howard, the three-term elected county Treasurer, when she ran for County Executive. But her five percentage point loss in November showed the Democrats have a lot of work to do in the county if they are to be competitive again in local elections.
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It probably sounds like a joke to the rest of Cecil County that about 100 local residents braved the cold early last Saturday morning to stand in line for the grand opening of a new Dollar General store in Cecilton, the county’s southernmost town. But for local residents it was a chance to celebrate the latest rejuvenation of the local economy—as well as pick up some goodie bags and discount coupons.

County Executive Tari Moore and Cecilton Mayor Joe Zang were on hand to cut the ribbon and welcome the new business to the area. The brick building occupies formerly town-owned land near the southern end of town on Route 213. The store is one of the chain’s larger “plus” stores, with food providing about 20 percent of its inventory, according to district manager Jeff Few.

Cecilton has been without a grocery or market for many years, since the old Cecilton Market closed. The opening of the Royal Farms at the town’s crossroads about a year ago brought snacks, sodas and milk, along with its popular fried chicken and sandwiches. Two small pizza shops also operate in Cecilton.

But most local residents from the Earleville and Cecilton area have had to drive long distances to supermarkets in Elkton or Middletown, DE for groceries. The new discount store features frozen food and canned goods as well as baked items. And the multi-aisle store offers a little bit of everything, from aspirin to auto supplies, and party decorations to presents for Valentines.

The store will employ about 15 people, both full-time and part-time, Few said. In the spring, the town-mandated landscaping plan will be planted to complement a park-bench outdoor seating area.

The project moved quickly, from excavation to finished building and parking lot in just a few months. Zang said the town worked closely with the business owners and their real-estate arm, bringing in state highway officials from the outset to expedite needed road planning on Route 213.

For years, Cecilton’s economy was dying. A vacant gas station, the closing of a popular sit-down restaurant as well as the demise of the local grocery store, and a mini-mart known more for drug arrests than legitimate sales, all added up to a dismal economic and physical environment.

But with two new businesses opening in the past year, the underway conversion of the old mini-mart to a Subway shop, and the expected construction of a moderate-income family rental community adjacent to the town library, Cecilton’s prospects are looking up.

Zang, who is up for re-election as mayor this spring, said he is hoping to continue the town’s revitalization with a possible meat market and fresh produce shop. He said his priorities for the town are to bring in services that “fill a void” in the community, will help spread around the costs of operating the town’s water and sewer facilities, and improve the overall quality of life in town.
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3 Responses to Cecil County Chatter: New Year– New Democrats’ Group in First Dist., New Shopping in Cecilton

  1. Russ on January 8, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Joe Zang takes party and politics out of the mix in Cecilton and simply gets the job done for the people. We can only hope that the County can take a lesson from him.

  2. Ron Lobos on January 8, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Joe Zang has been very refreshing to the political arena. He exemplifies everything we should look up to as a representative and how he puts his community first.

  3. Stupid Intolerant on January 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Mr.Zang stays engaged with county issues.He is a fixture at council meetings etc.Good on you Cecilton,you are fortunate to have such a dedicated mayor.

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