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Cecil County Politics: Battles Brew in Council, State’s Attorney, and Delegate Races as Candidates File for 2014 Elections

February 25, 2014
By Nancy Schwerzler

Several hotly contested races are shaping up, especially in the June Republican primary, for Cecil County offices and state legislative seats as the clock ran down for individual candidates to file for office Tuesday evening. A fight between a splinter “liberty” group and other Republicans is brewing in one Council contest and for control of the county’s GOP Central Committee—while four local candidates are seeking one Cecil County Delegate seat in District 36.

There were some last minute surprises, including the filing on Monday by Cecil County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) for the state District 36 seat now held by Del. Michael Smigiel, a Republican. Smigiel had failed to receive the appointment to the state Senate seat vacated last summer by E.J. Pipkin and initially vowed to run in the 2014 election for the Senate slot. But in recent months he had not repeated that vow and instead on 2/21/14 filed, as many had expected, for re-election to the House of Delegates.

McCarthy, who is a licensed veterinarian and businessman who lives in Chesapeake City, was elected to the County Council in 2012 after soundly defeating incumbent James Mullin, who was an ally of the “Smipkin” political organization led by Smigiel and Pipkin for several years.

The 36th District is unique in the state. It has three “resident delegate” seats allocated to Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties but the district also includes part of Caroline County, which is the only county in Maryland that has not had its own resident delegate in nearly 20 years. As a result, a Caroline County candidate can contend for any of the three seats—but residents of the other counties can only run for their own county-designated seat even though they are elected by voters from all four counties in the district.

Jeff Ghrist, a Caroline County Commissioner, had already filed in the GOP primary, and the last Caroline resident to represent the county in Annapolis, Robert A. Thornton, filed on 2/24/14 as a Democrat for the general election.

The Cecil County seat is already hotly contested in the GOP primary, with Smigiel, McCarthy and two other candidates having filed. Rod Heinze, the former town administrator of Port Deposit and a former mayor of an Illinois town, has filed as a Republican and J.D. Uhler, a state trooper, filed last spring.

It is expected, election sources said, that the GOP primary ballot will list together the Cecil County residents with instructions that voters may select only one of the Cecil candidates.

However, individuals have until the end of the business day on Thursday, 2/27/14 to withdraw as a candidate and their names would not appear on the primary ballot.

Also filing for the other Delegate seats in District 36 are Steve Arentz (R), who currently holds the Queen Anne’s county seat to which he was appointed after a trickle-down vacancy was created when the former holder of the seat, Steve Hershey, was appointed to Pipkin’s Senate seat. A Democrat, Irving Pinder of Centreville, was a last minute filer on Tuesday for the Queen Anne’s seat for the general election.

And Del. Jay Jacobs (R) of Kent County has filed for re-election.

Meanwhile, two incumbent Republican Cecil County Council members filed in the past few days for re-election: Diana Broomell (District 4) and Michael Dunn (District 3).

And in a last minute move, Michael A. Dawson—known locally as MAD Mike during his controversial one-term stint on the Perryville town council—suddenly entered the District 4 County Council contest late Tuesday. It looked like a bid to muddy the primary waters with a variant on a names’s-almost-the-same gambit he worked to win his town post by one vote several years ago.

MAD Mike Dawson was so dubbed to differentiate him from the locally popular Michael W. Dawson, also of Perryville. Michael W. Dawson—known locally and on the ballot as “Good Mike”– had filed for the GOP primary against Broomell but he withdrew his candidacy recently so as to narrow the field against Broomell and defer to another candidate, George Patchell, executive director of the county’s YMCA, who was seen as having a better shot of defeating Broomell in the primary.

The winner of the GOP contest will face Port Deposit mayor and former county Commissioner Wayne Tome, a Democrat who was unchallenged in his party primary, in the November general election.

A different sort of intra-party war is brewing in District 3, where Dunn—the perpetually silent member of the Council who won his seat in 2010 as part of the Smipkin group’s “slate” of candidates—is facing two Republican primary challengers.

Dan Schneckenburger, an engineer and active volunteer on many county job creation and economic development advisory panels, had previously filed for the seat. And Robert Willick, a leader of the local “Campaign for Liberty” group, filed against Dunn on 2/20/14.

For the past year or so, the local “liberty” group has been active in Internet postings, robocalls and flyers attacking current county Republican officials, especially County Executive Tari Moore, County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) and Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2). The group had not previously singled out Dunn for attack but Willick’s entry into the race against Dunn signals that those gloves will be off in the primary.

Willick and several other members of the “liberty” group have also filed for seats on the nine-member county Republican Central Committee. Several incumbent members of the panel who were aligned with the Smipkin slate have also filed for re-election to their seats while several candidates not aligned with either faction have also filed.

In November, the winner of the GOP primary for the District 3 Council seat will face Democrat Bob Porter, a retired heating contracting firm owner from the Elk Mills area who has been active in land preservation groups in the county. He filed as a Democrat on Tuesday.

In Council District 2, Bowlsbey had previously filed for election to the seat to which she was appointed when Moore moved up to become County Executive. A candidate aligned in the past with the Smipkin group, Chris Zeauskas, filed 2/21/14 against her in the GOP primary.

Zeauskas previously lost a bid for a County Commissioner’s seat but currently chairs the GOP Central Committee. He is also seeking re-election to the GOP panel in 2014. (Zeauskas was the plaintiff in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Smigiel against Moore challenging her brief “unafilliated” hiatus as a Republican and the appointment of Bowlsbey to the council– a lawsuit that cost taxpayers $40,000 in legal fees.)

A Democrat, John Ulrich, filed on Tuesday for the District 2 seat. He is the chair of the local Democratic Central Committee and works as a real estate appraiser. He has long been active in local and regional Democratic politics. He will face the winner of the GOP primary in the November general election.

Another hotly contested race is shaping up in the GOP primary for State’s Attorney. Incumbent E.D. Ellis Rollins III, who won the post in 2010, faces a challenge from Republican Michael Halter, a former assistant State’s Attorney who is now in private law practice. Halter lost to Rollins in the 2010 GOP primary but is gearing up for a renewed challenge.

The lone local office incumbent Democrat, Allyn Price Nickel, filed for re-election as Register of Wills in September. But in recent days a GOP primary fight has emerged for the chance to challenge her in November. Michael W. “Good Mike” Dawson has filed as a Republican for the slot, after previously filing and then withdrawing as a candidate for Broomell’s Council seat. And Gaylord F. Moody III, a past Register of Wills candidate, filed again for the post on 2/21/14. [Correction: a previous posting of this article mis-stated Moody's past candidacy.]

In a non-partisan contest for a Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship, incumbent Brenda Sexton—who was appointed to the post last year by the governor—will stand for election to the seat. Kevin Urick, a longtime assistant state’s attorney who has prosecuted criminal cases involving sex offenders, also filed as a candidate for the seat. Candidates run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.

The always volatile contest for Cecil County Sheriff already had a crowded field of candidates in both the Republican and Democratic primaries and there was a last minute surprise when William J. Killough filed Tuesday in the GOP contest. The former Sheriff last held the post in 1998. Another late candidate filing came from Democrat Danny Blackburn, on 2/20/14.

The Sheriff’s campaign has been well underway since early last year, with previously filed candidates in the GOP primary Chris Sutton, Scott Adams, Dan Slater and Chip Peterson. Previously filed Democratic candidates are Bilton Morgan, Guy Miller, and Bill Gerczak.

Meanwhile, in other state legislative races, incumbent Democrat David Rudolph filed for re-election in a newly-drawn and numbered state Delegate district, 35A. It is the only all-Cecil County Delegate district in the area—Cecil County is splintered into three Delegate districts.

There will be a contested GOP primary, with three candidates seeking to challenge Rudolph in November. John C. Mackie, Jr., well known in Cecil County business and political circles, filed for the Republican nomination on 2/19/14. Mary Catherine Podlesak of Elkton also filed for the seat. Kevin Hornberger, a political newcomer from North East who works in Washington, DC as a building engineer, filed on 1/29/14. Hornberger is also seeking a seat on the county’s GOP Central Committee.

The newly numbered and re-districted 35B segment that includes a large chunk of western Cecil County but also includes a significant swathe of northeastern Harford County provides for two delegate seats. Two Democrats have filed for the seats: Jeffrey Elliott of Bel Air, in Harford County, and Daniel Lamey, of Pylesville, also in Harford County.

Among Republicans, three Harford County candidates have filed for the two seats: Andrew Cassilly, of Havre de Grace; Teresa Reilly, of Whiteford; and Jason Gallion, of Churchville.

In state Senate contests, a bitter contest has already emerged in the GOP primary for the District 36 seat, formerly held by Pipkin and now held by Steve Hershey who was appointed to fill the vacancy. Former Del. Dick Sossi, who lost by 124 votes to Hershey in the 2010 primary for the Queen Anne’s County delegate slot, has filed against Hershey for the Senate seat.

And in the newly numbered and redistricted western Cecil/Harford County Senate District 35 contest, current Harford County Del. Wayne Norman (R) is running to move up to the Senate while Thomas J. Wilson, of Rising Sun in Cecil County, is also seeking the GOP nomination. A Cecil County Democrat, Bridget Kelly of Perryville, has also filed.

In contests where no one from a political party has filed, the local Central Committee can select a candidate to put on their primary ballot until the end of the day on Monday, 3/3/14.

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THANK YOU, Cecil County voters, for endorsing my campaign for Delegate.
--Alan McCarthy