Last of Smipkins Seek Elkton Rule; Zeauskas, Gorman Morph into “Zormans,” to Attack Piner, Givens
Cecil County has been there, done that, with several years of political turmoil instigated by the old Smipkin political machine and its cloned “Three Amigos” rule of the old county Board of Commissioners. Now, with that machine broken down and tossed into the political landfill, two cogs in the machine are looking to clone it into a new “Zorman” machine to dominate the Elkton town council.
Robert (Bob) Gorman and Chris Zeauskas are running in Tuesday’s town council elections, seeking to oust incumbents Earl Piner and Charles Givens. The Zormans are also aligned with a currently seated council member. D.J. Van Reenan, who has repeatedly attacked fellow council members and town mayor Robert Alt, often in personal terms.
There’s plenty of political and substantive room to raise questions about town business or suggest different ways of doing things. But the problem with the Zormans is tactics, attacks and a past record of political shenanigans aimed solely at helping political pals and advancing their own agenda, slinging mud often at the expense of decent public servants’ reputations.
For just about every valid question that could be raised—from town water rates, to crime, to town fiscal actions—the Zormans turn the issues into personal insults. When a water contract with the private Artesian firm, signed during the administration of former mayor Joe Fisona, suddenly invoked a penalty clause due to higher demand during a drought, the Zormans see it as evidence that the local officials were stupid or in collusion with the contractor—rather than a past error that the town has been working to fix with the result that water rates have been going down.
On crime, the town police department produced stats showing the crime rate had actually gone down, and when the Zormans questioned the numbers, a re-calculation showed that the crime rates had gone down even more than initially reported. That didn’t satisfy the Zormans, however, who said the test should be if people “feel” safe on the streets of Elkton. Never let the facts get in the way of a political campaign.
The local Fraternal Order of Police chapter representing town police officers has endorsed Givens and Piner, based upon their record of support for local law enforcement. But the Zormans have been shouting on social media that the endorsement was “dirty tactics” and suggesting the endorsement was tantamount to a payoff because the current collective bargaining agreement is up for re-negotiation during the next term of council members. Not so, the FOP replied, saying no favors or commitments on future agreements had been given and that Piner and Givens had “demonstrated strong, enduring support” for local police officers.
The Zormans say they don’t believe that the reason there are eight vacant positions on the town police force is because it is very hard to find qualified applicants who can pass rigorous standards barring recent past users of illegal drugs. But just a few days ago, county director of emergency services Richard Brooks told the County Council he has a very hard time filling 911 call center dispatcher positions because the majority of applicants cannot meet the anti-drug standards and the few who can often find higher paid positions in Delaware or other Maryland counties. Carrying a gun and having full police powers is even more deserving of high standards than answering the phone and dispatching police cars and if Brooks has had recruiting problems, with his many years in emergency services work, what makes the Zormans think they can succeed where he has stumbled?
In the current town council contest, the Zormans refused to appear at a candidate debate sponsored by the Elkton Alliance because they felt the group was prejudiced against them because a current town council member Mary Jo Jablonski, also works for the Alliance, which tries to bring economic development and tourism to the town. They have also questioned the operations of the town’s state designation as an “Arts and Entertainment District,” which give preferences and incentives to arts and entertainment venues to locate in the town—a designation that has brought the first new signs of life to the previously vacancy-riddled downtown.
The Zormans have relied heavily on social media support from the conservative “Campaign for Liberty” (C4L) group to attack the incumbents on the town council. The C4L group supported Zeauskas and Gorman in a recent run for county Republican Central Committee, including a glossy flyer supporting them and paid for by the C4L’s “Liberty PAC.” C4L strenuously opposes any government role in local land uses, which would include incentives to create an arts district. Elkton was way ahead of many other towns on the Shore in seeking this designation a decade ago and now Chestertown in Kent County is seeking a similar state designation, citing the Elkton model.
County voters have repeatedly rejected Zeauskas, a perennial losing candidate for various county offices including county commissioner and County Council, while Gorman lost a run for the county’s Republican Central Committee in 2014. Zeauskas won a seat on the GOP panel on a Smipkin slate in 2010 and managed to hold on in the 2014 election when most of the other Smipkins went down to defeat. But a few months later, he resigned, saying he didn’t have time for the minimal duties of the party committee.
In an email to members of the Central Committee 2/23/15, Zeauskas announced his resignation from the panel: “I would like to let everyone know that I am resigning from my position on the CCRCC effect today February 23, 2015. I do not have the time to give it my 100% attention any longer. I am going to focus on my family. They have given up a lot for me over the last eight years that I have been involved in politics and I think it is time I give back to them……”
The GOP Central Committee holds at most one brief meeting a month or quarter, and members cook barbeque chicken at the county fair as a fundraising project. But now he is running for the much more demanding and time-consuming position as a council member of the county’s largest town?
Gorman was a top lieutenant in the Smipkin machine that was created by former state Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36. Pipkin resigned his seat and moved to Texas, taking with him his junk bond trader financial nest-egg that had paid for many negative, scorched earth political tactics against its foes, including fellow Republicans. Gorman was the voice of a series of Smipkin-financed robocalls attacking then- County Commissioners Tari Moore and Robert Hodge in a past GOP primary election.
Gorman was also the creator of a shadowy Political Action Committee (PAC)—“Protect Cecil’s Children—used to attack Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes, who had been appointed to a vacant seat on the bench and was running in a non-partisan election to retain the seat in 2012. The Gorman PAC was clearly aimed at trying to help Smigiel in his political campaign against Baynes, who ended up defeating Smigiel overwhelmingly.
Gorman’s PAC mounted an attack, complete with a scurrilous mailer and Facebook page, accusing Baynes of being ‘soft’ on punishing predators against children. In fact, the mother of a child victim publicly praised Baynes for his tough prosecution while he was an assistant State’s Attorney that led to imposition of a lengthy jail term on the predator, and she criticized Smigiel for acting as a defense counsel for the convicted predator.
But to add insult to PAC injury, the true source of the more than $3,700 used by Gorman to pay for printing and mailing the flyer has never been disclosed, contrary to state election laws. Gorman’s PAC did report that it got money from another PAC—created AFTER the primary election and after the printing expenses had been incurred—from another shadowy PAC with Smigiel ties. To this date, the other PAC—headed by two other Smigiel longtime political supporters, Lisa Conley and her daughter Meghan Schwartz—has refused to disclose where they got the money to transfer to Gorman’s PAC.
[SEE one of many CECIL TIMES reports on this PAC-gate here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/12/smipkin-pals-seeking-cecil-county-council-seat-linked-to-pacs-sleaze-against-fellow-republicans/ ]
Smigiel has acted as the lawyer for Schwartz in two criminal cases with sentences rendered, according to court records, including one case that went to court at about the same time as the Schwartz-Conley PAC gave money to Gorman’s PAC. The Schwartz-Conley PAC refused for years to file any of the required reports with the state Elections Board, until the matter was referred to the State Prosecutor, which investigates and prosecutes political corruption and violations of election law. The Schwartz-Conley PAC eventually filed some reports, but never the time frame report that would show where they got the money they transferred to Gorman’s PAC to finance the attack against Baynes. The state eventually closed the case without requiring full compliance with the law for the filing of the relevant finance report.
Is it just a coincidence that the Zormans are trying to dominate the Elkton town council at the same time that Smigiel is trying to stage a political comeback? Smigiel is a three-time political loser in the last three elections—losing a race for a judgeship in 2012, losing a re-election bid for state delegate in 2014, and just recently overwhelmingly losing a GOP primary challenge to incumbent US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1). Smigiel recently filed applications for a gubernatorial appointment to seats on the District Court and Circuit Court.
With so much political baggage of their own, the Zormans have taken to attacking Piner—who has coached the Cecil College men’s basketball team for years and has been very active in youth mentoring and guidance programs—for his recent appearance at a children’s dance recital.
A video and commentary making the rounds of the Zorman crowd on social media attacks Piner for making a quick pitch for voter support at the end of a youth dance recital, which is part of a local program that gives young girls a creative outlet that many would otherwise be denied because their families could not afford private lessons. Piner was there to show support, and jokingly did a few dance steps of his own. A member of the Zormans machine, VanReenan, has urged eliminating the Parks and Recreation department that supports programs such as this girls’ dance program.
Maybe Piner’s remark was ill-timed, but it did underscore the point that he has “been there” for children and youth services and has appeared at the dance recital every year to support the girls’ achievements. If the Zormans won’t show up for a candidates’ debate, there seems little chance they’d hoof it on stage for moral support, or in financial support, for the girls’ dance program or other town initiatives for children.
[UPDATE: Elkton voters decided on Tuesday 5/24/16 to return Piner and Givens to the town council and rejected the Zormans. Givens was the top vote-getter, with 614 votes; Piner received 601 votes; Gorman got 454 votes and Zeauskas came in last, with 437.