It came as a surprise to many that Salisbury City Council member Terry Cohen resigned with a little over a year left on her term. Citing her family’s “major life changes” she’s resigning as of August 8.
Cohen was originally elected as part of a reform-minded slate in 2007, and found a natural ally in then-Council member Debbie Campbell. And while those who advocated for reform eventually turned on Louise Smith, who was one of the two new Council members elected in 2007, the real change in Salisbury came when current Mayor Jim Ireton was elected in 2009. Campbell and Cohen became more reviled as the obstacles to Ireton’s agenda, eventually leading to Campbell’s defeat by Jake Day in 2013 as well as Cohen’s removal as City Council president, where she served from 2011-13, to be replaced by the newcomer Day.
Of course, the blogs which focus more on local politics are already aflame with comments and suggestions for a replacement for Cohen, with the situation further complicated by Day’s required military reserve service occurring this week – however, they have until September 5 to name a replacement and they’ll begin accepting applications Monday. That replacement will have just 15 months to serve out Cohen’s term before he or she stands for election, if desired.
Two of the names most bandied about to fill Cohen’s seat are Josh Hastings and Muir Boda. As most locals know, Hastings is already running for a County Council District 3 seat as the Democratic nominee while Boda ran at-large and finished third in the Republican primary behind Matt Holloway and John Cannon – respectively, present and former County Council members. There are others who are being mentioned, mainly on the Democratic side, so the obvious question is whether the Democratic-dominated City Council will stay loyal to party or not.
Yet what do I always hear from Democrats when the Republicans are in charge – we need to have bipartisan consensus, they say. Well, here’s an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and select the best candidate out there. (Worth noting: the city elections are non-partisan.)
I believe in having everyone at the table. All are stakeholders in this city whether you are a homeowner or business owner, landlord or renter, employer or employee, you have a right to be heard. We all have a stake in this community and passing it on to the next generation better than we received it is not just the right thing to do, it is our duty.
Join me as we bring forth a positive message of healing, reaching out to our neighborhoods that are disenfranchised and opening up our doors for business. We have so much work to do and it is going to take all of us putting aside our differences to do what is best for Salisbury.
These were Muir Boda’s words in 2011, just before the general election where he finished fourth – it was the same election where Terry Cohen retained the seat she’s vacating, along with Laura Mitchell and Tim Spies. For the most part, the message rings true still today.
As the city moves into a phase where the downtown may be revitalized, I want to make sure that’s not at the expense of the neighborhoods. As a homeowner in one of the city’s most transient neighborhoods – most homes on his block are rentals – Muir has an interest in maintaining the sometimes-neglected corners of the city. I think he would be a fine choice for this sudden vacancy.
It probably wasn’t a big surprise based on the primary results and the perception that this election was a tag team match between Jake Day and Jim Ireton vs. Debbie Campbell and Joe Albero. But the preliminary results are in, and it’s all but official that the Day/Ireton side won handily: Day picked up just under 72% of the vote in routing two-term incumbent Debbie Campbell while Jim Ireton managed just 68% of the vote in defeating Joe Albero and winning a second term.
Campbell was the only one of the three incumbents to lose, as District 1 Council member Shanie Shields won a third term with just 48% of the vote – a quirk in the City Charter allowed both challengers to advance through the primary. Cynthia Polk received 3 more votes than April Jackson did this time.
So where will Salisbury go now? Later this month it appears we will find that the 3-2 majorities which always seemed to stymie Ireton’s key initiatives will now become 3-2 votes in favor, with Day joining incumbents Shields and Laura Mitchell to provide a pro-Ireton majority. And I’d love to get a hold of Debbie Campbell’s green-highlighted copy of the Day plan just to see how many of these items indeed cost city taxpayers.
But another question may be the fate of River’s Edge, which was touted by Campbell as one of her achievements. While the money from the state is probably still going to be there, will the plans have to change to accommodate the retail aspect Day wants to bring to the city? (It’s still pretty sad that taxpayers all around the state are going to be paying a subsidy for a artisan community, but that’s a subject for another time.)
Still, given the primary results none of these results were completely unexpected. Both Day and Shields actually improved their percentages from the primary – which was not surprising to me because people like to back a winner. Day gained 723 votes from the primary while Campbell picked up only 292. Over 71 percent of the new votes went to Day, reflective of the final margin and perhaps a result of the (somewhat undeserved) negative reputation Campbell acquired over the years.
Of course, it’s too early to tell what the future will hold for the losers. While April Jackson was a first-time candidate in District 1, Cynthia Polk has now lost twice. And while Debbie Campbell can look back at eight years where she went from the reformer darling against the “Dream Team” in 2005 to being portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West on one local blog, Joe Albero literally relocated himself to an apartment inside one of the properties he owns a year ago to establish city residency after living outside Delmar, Delaware for several years. Is he through with Salisbury?
For all the talk about attracting businesses in this campaign, it should be noted that Jim Ireton is a financial supporter of the man who has all but single-handedly turned Maryland into one of the most hostile states toward business in the country, Martin O’Malley. His redistributionist policy is one of the greatest handicaps to making Salisbury into a jewel, and we can’t do anything to change that until next year.
And so another election season comes to an end in Salisbury, but the work for those of us who believe in liberty begins now. It’s time to find a conservative slate of candidates willing to stop the subsidies, cut the red tape, and truly place the “open for business” sign in Salisbury – hopefully working in conjunction with a like-minded state government in Annapolis ready and willing to roll back the excesses of the O’Malley era. This city can thrive, but it needs the right people in charge to do it.
Yes, I know it’s Easter Sunday, so I wish my believing readers a happy Easter – He is risen!
But on Tuesday, Salisbury voters will head to the polls to elect their mayor and two of five City Council members in the last partial election before changes in 2015 would require all Council members and the mayor be elected simultaneously. So in essence we are picking some of these Council members and mayor for a half-term to be completed in the fall of 2015.
Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter who gets elected in District 1 because they will be advocates for the city’s minority population getting theirs rather than necessarily the benefits of the city as a whole. I heard a lot of complaining from the three women who are running about what the city didn’t do for their district, and while we all want the benefit of good jobs their district in particular is the product of people who made a lot of bad life choices. We also all want a thriving minority community, but it should be in the context of a thriving community as a whole. Moreover, in 2015 that district will double in size and become home to two Council members if the plans remain the same.
But while I can dismiss the District 1 race quickly, I have a lot to say about the mayor’s race.
In 2009, Jim Ireton told us that help was on the way. Well, the city isn’t exactly thriving, and it’s spent a lot of money just to maintain its place on the treadmill. Furthermore, it appears that even more money will have to be spent thanks to government mandates to clean up Chesapeake Bay – despite the fact millions have already been spent on what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant. Meanwhile, Jim touts a lot of “accomplishments” which any halfway decent mayor should have been able to do in his sleep. This is what Jim lists on his website as “Improving Salisbury”:
Third Friday, The city’s first Latino Festival, lowering business capacity fees, people returning to downtown, the city dog park, improvements at Bateman/Onley Road. These are just a few of the important improvements to Salisbury that have happened while Jim has been Mayor. Coalitions across Salisbury have worked with Jim and city staff to move projects forward. Jim led the way on the city’s comprehensive plan, fought for and won a 60% reduction in business capacity fees, and hasn’t raised property taxes his entire time in office.
Jim has aggressively used the city’s revolving loan fund program to help businesses like Mojo’s, and he’s ordered the demolition of five slum properties and worked to close and demolish the Thrift Travel Inn.
Well, no wonder MoJo’s donated to his campaign! I’m just surprised they didn’t max out. But when you think about it – is that a worthy resume of four years in office? Oh, and he claims violent crime dropped 41 percent and he hired the first female chief of police.
But the city still struggles with the same problems it did four years ago. Some things are different and some things are changed, but we still seem to be only treading water. The situation was ripe for a good opponent; instead, we got Joe Albero.
Joe Albero claims to be a successful (now-retired) businessman who would bring that experience to Salisbury. Yet I have to question that because I’ve never seen any of the businesses he created – it’s not like I drive by any of them in my daily rounds as I would a restaurant, a haberdashery, or a manufacturing plant. From what I have gathered, the business he owns works in the lighting field but there are no local jobs being created that I’m aware of. One would think he would point with pride to these businesses and say, see what success I have achieved? But he doesn’t even have a functional “Albero for Mayor” website.
Now I will say Joe has a website which apparently attracts a fair number of readers and is chock full of ads from local businesses who supposedly pay $100 a month for the privilege. If you want to count that as a successful business I suppose you could but consider how he got it to be a successful business – it wasn’t through good customer service or promoting a quality product. I’ve spoken to observers who liken visiting the site to seeing highlights of the 14-car NASCAR pileup – you know it’s wrong, but you can’t help but watch.
So those are Salisbury’s choices for mayor for the next 31 months. I really can’t recommend either of them; although Albero talks a good game I simply have a trust issue with him from past experience.
Yet on the City Council District 2 side, I can provide you with a clear choice.
I can’t fault Jake Day either for trying or for having some sound ideas; moreover, he’s the only candidate who knocked on my door. But I’m troubled by a number of items in his elaborate plan for Salisbury.
I don’t believe one can force the market to adapt to retail, nor can we goose a demand for downtown/urban housing without some kind of subsidy. Day seemingly envisions a Salisbury where all the new housing in certain areas is attached to retail below – of course, the question is whether there is a market for either option considering we have a number of these housing units already available. (One example is the building Albero lives in, which insofar as I recall hadn’t had its apartments leased in several years until Albero himself moved in.)
And while it would be nice to create a Salisbury Boulevard which is more attractive, I have to wonder where the money for these improvements will come from and also how it will affect traffic flow. Day advocates for an expansion of mass transit between Salisbury University and downtown, and seems to focus most of his energy on building up the central city.
He’s also an advocate of LEED design, which is great for energy efficiency but not so good for property rights or inexpensive building. As I’ve often stated, I like a payback period for investment in energy savings of five years or less and, although I haven’t kept up with the LEED field over the last few years, it was heading in a direction even more disdainful of property rights and toward central planning. The words “transit-oriented development” may not mean much to you, but to me it means attempting to do away with the automobile and the freedom it provides.
Over the last few weeks, it’s become apparent that Day was Jim Ireton’s handpicked minion for City Council, and I didn’t support Jim Ireton the first time he ran.
Me, I would rather have a fiscal watchdog on City Council:
Yes, it’s a video which isn’t all that slickly produced and, to be quite honest, I’m not sure how River’s Edge isn’t going to be the same black hole that’s already sitting on the site, just a little farther along. Color me skeptical.
But when the word “no” is justified, I want someone who knows how to say it. Consider Debbie Campbell as a check and balance to the far-left intentions of Jim Ireton. I’ll be quite honest: I didn’t vote for her the last time she ran because I thought Muir Boda would do an even better job, and it’s too bad he didn’t run this time. I was hoping Jack Heath would finish in the top two (and I voted for him, despite his somewhat lackluster campaign) so I’d have a better, more conservative choice than I have with Day in the field; alas, it was not to be.
Will the infighting on City Council continue with Campbell remaining in place? Sadly, the answer is probably “yes.” But I’d rather have a little friction and the assurance someone is watching out for my interests than smooth sailing toward oblivion. I honestly suspect all of the realtors and contractors who have donated to Day will be lined up looking for their palms to be greased later this month if Day is sworn in.
Unfortunately, that joining at the hip of Day and Ireton has also led to the thought that Campbell and Albero are, too. But I haven’t seen Campbell and Albero out campaigning together, and while they may share some of the same goals I’m not taking the package deal. I’m hoping those of us on the local Republican Central Committee can work on getting a better, full slate of candidates before voters in 2015, since it would be a four-year term (and perhaps five separate districts, a Day idea I could endorse.)
But overall the choice for District 2 is clear: let’s get some honest-to-goodness business going in Salisbury, not pay-for-play. Vote for Debbie Campbell on Tuesday.
Normally I try to do a blow-by-blow of these events by question but instead this time I want to do it by candidate. Many of the questions concerned an issue I also think is paramount, and that’s economic development. Small wonder when the local Chamber of Commerce is the co-sponsor.
And as an executive editorial decision, summarizing by candidate also gives me the opportunity to comment on their final release of financial statements prior to the election.
I want to begin with District 1, a fight in which I have no dog in because I live in the city’s other district. Through a quirk in the City Charter, we found out the primary election did nothing but act as a poll as to relative position in the race. We found both April Jackson or Cynthia Polk would need to find perhaps 80 to 85 votes to get to victory while Shanie Shields only needs around 60 (based on 2009 results, where just over 250 total votes were cast.) But District 1′s pathetic turnout means it’s quite possible the first to 100 votes wins.
I’ll begin with April Jackson, who attended this forum after missing the PACE event in February and almost missing the cutoff in the primary. Her 53rd and tying vote was practically the last one counted in the final canvass.
Her business vision was one of creating a five-year plan to bring in business and tourism, stating “I have no doubt in my mind” the city could succeed. Among the successes she would like to work on if elected is the North Prong/Lake Street neighborhood, something which is currently “a complete eyesore” but could be revitalized.
April also felt that the way to a better business environment was to find out what the city wants or needs. But something the city didn’t need was the enhanced disclosure form argued about by City Council, a document Jackson called “totally unnecessary” and “not feasible.” Moreover, she believed we do need a full-time city attorney.
She also contended, on the question of consolidating city and county services, that we should all work together – I gathered she was more open to the idea than most. In the end, Jackson advocated for a clear vision, smart planning, and open dialogue and vowed to serve with “dignity, direction, and determination.”
Through two reports Jackson has raised just $945, with most of it apparently coming from supportive family and friends. Her chief expenditures have been signage and a radio ad running on local gospel station WDIH-FM.
Fellow challenger Cynthia Polk pledged to bring “the power to listen” to City Council, advocating herself for “active listening.” Yet while she spoke about “the power of no,” Cynthia noted that “every no don’t mean no,” quoting her grandmother. And even on the question of a full-time city attorney, she was noncommittal: “I would have to go and listen.”
She was more decisive about and critical of the much-discussed disclosure form, though, calling it a “borderline invasion of privacy.” Polk was “leery” of exceeding the state requirements for disclosure on a city form. She was also concerned about the consolidation of services with the county, citing the level of service and the budget as factors.
However, Cynthia was willing to create jobs – her “top priority” – through collaboration with local universities and expanding the enterprise zones to include more of District 1. She also pondered how we could attract more Ocean City-bound traffic and tourism – but she seemed a little bit hesitant to embrace mayoral candidate Joe Albero’s claim he would double as the city’s economic development director, jumping in on a mayoral question to note economic development “is a specialty.”
Polk did believe the River’s Edge project, which is near her home, would “give the whole area a lift.” The city needs innovation, and an opportunity to restore that area to the prominence it once had instead of the question “why do you live over there?” Cynthia noted in her closing her shortcomings as a public speaker, but that answer proved she could speak clearly and passionately when needed. “I’m the candidate for the rest of us,” she concluded.
After not filing a full financial report in the primary because she didn’t meet the $600 threshold, Polk revealed she had raised $550 – exactly half of that self-funded – and spent most of her funds on signage. She’d also leaned heavily on three volunteers for distributing the flyers, claiming 34 hours of in-kind services from them at $8 per hour. (One of those volunteers and contributors was former City Council member and 2010 Delegate candidate Von Siggers.)
Incumbent Shanie Shields could obviously lean on her eight years on City Council, but opened up by saying she was “ready to move Salisbury forward.” But two things she wanted in her next term were “a better political climate” and “civility” – for her, the last two years have been “stressful.”
Indeed, she was very critical of the current rendition of City Council. Citing the disclosure form as an example, she revealed it was just 23 taxpayers who wanted the ordinance, with two bothering to testify. It’s “another example of not including stakeholders,” according to Shields. “We need to bring stakeholders to the table,” she would later stress in response to another query.
A second bone of contention with the city’s legislative body was the city attorney. Shields jumped on a statement by District 2 challenger Jake Day about the city attorney, charging that the city hadn’t seen a legal bill since October. “If the previous city attorney had done that we would have his head,” Shanie charged.
On the mayoral question of a full-time economic development director, Shields added her remark that she couldn’t support the hiring of one before other current city workers received raises. Her budgetary concerns extended to the idea of consolidating services with the county, a concept she believed could be handled through mutual aid pacts. Like Jackson, Shields advocated for the idea of developing the North Prong, adding in the concept of extending the existing Riverwalk to that area. She also believed the area of Germania Circle should be converted over to a park, citing how flood-prone it has been.
Not surprisingly, the incumbent has raised the most money in the race, a total which has now reached $3,170. Much of that has come from the building and rental industry – local architect Keith Fisher, realtor Michael Weisner, GNI Properties, and Investment Properties are among contributors which donated at or near the maximum $250 limit. And while she’s spent her money on the regular campaign fare of signs, radio spots, and a handful of shirts, Shanie should also be commended for spending a little bit on feeding her volunteers.
Yet while the District 1 contenders chose to try and sell themselves, the two District 2 candidates who survived the primary were running against something: Jake Day against a Council which he claims needs more collaboration and openness and Debbie Campbell against an opponent versus whom she’s several hundred votes in arrears.
Jake Day, as the leading primary vote-getter, could afford to lay back and call out the need for a business environment that’s “all about collaboration, all about openness.” That included reducing barriers to investment, creating an EDU-free zone, and “making an investment in” an economic development office and business incubator. On the other hand, when the subject of Urban Salisbury came up before the mayoral debate, Day added his belief that Urban Salisbury wasn’t structured right nor was it focused on the right things.
His vision for downtown was one with mixed-use development, something which could be worthy of being called “the capital of the Eastern Shore.” It takes a changed culture, though.
Jake was critical of the disclosure form, decrying the $1200 of city staff time in arguing over the points of an “absurd ordinance,” but one which is a “good idea, executed poorly.” Day also pointed out these and other ideas, like a proposed “lockout law”, came before Council thanks to its president, which served as a subtle dig at Council as composed. That extended to the expenditure of $110,000 Jake claimed had been spent on a city attorney. The 2,500 voters who signed a petition to revisit the city attorney question were right, added Jake. And when questioned about the 2,500 signatures by opponent Debbie Campbell, who pointed out they weren’t certified, Day said “I knocked on doors using that list.” He added that “the county is in a great place” with its internal counsel.
But on other questions, Jake was more receptive. “We have to keep our mind open” to the possibility of combining city and county services if it’s efficient.
In his closing statement, Day pointed out this would be the last gathering of the candidates. “This has been an incredible experience,” he said, adding his admiration for former Council aspirant Jack Heath. When we set our sights on goals, we have the people to accomplish them, Day concluded.
Financially, Day eclipsed the five-figure mark in his latest statement, raising $10,535 thus far and leading all candidates. Included in that was $250 in PAC money from the Realtors PAC in Annapolis. Day has also spent the most on radio ads and fundraisers of any Council candidate, by far.
On the other hand, and by virtue of her distant second-place primary finish, Debbie Campbell had to be more aggressive in her approach to the forum.
She repeated her belief that businesses trying to engage the city should be treated like they’re checking into a five-star hotel, and reminded voters that there had been no tax increase “yet.”
On the subject of the disclosure form, though, Debbie saw it as a way of addressing the “veil” of LLCs over public money. It “creates transparency,” she argued. This contentiousness extended to the mayoral discussion of a proposal to adopt a more stringent “lockout law.” Campbell contended it could be enforced for an unregistered firearm, and the idea was from the mayor’s office.
Debbie also chimed in on a question which turned to the subject of Urban Salisbury, making the contention that they funded the organization “for years” but never saw the desired results. “Sometimes ‘no’ isn’t the popular answer, but it is the right answer,” said Campbell.
She also spoke at some length about the consolidation of services, reminding the audience of about 75 that “the political will did not exist” to keep the human resources and IT departments together between city and county. She also noted that consolidating public safety was “deemed not sensible” but “perhaps” the public works departments could be combined.
Debbie’s vision for the city was one of increasing our tax base, stating that “we don’t need more subsidized housing.” While we have “righted the ship,” said Campbell, we still need good jobs. She was also proud of the River’s Edge project.
Toward the end of the forum, though, Campbell became more critical of her opponent. Holding up a highlighted copy of Jake Day’s 44-page plan for the city, Debbie charged “everything in green (highlighter) costs money…you have to have somebody to say you can’t afford it.” Interestingly enough, that plan is
no longer available online. (Apparently there was an issue with access from certain browsers. Jake let me know it was working, and I verified this afternoon.) But I have the (non-highlighted) draft copy.
She also believed the question of a fulltime city attorney needed to be studied on a cost/benefit basis, where she alleged the 2,500 signatures were not certified. (They weren’t because the threshold for petitioning to an election in the city requires more than 2,500 signatures.)
Debbie’s key point was her status as a fiscal watchdog – “I’ve watched your money,” said Campbell – but she was also critical of the PAC money Day has received. Holding up copies of a mailing paid for by the National Association of Realtors Fund, she cried “is our city for sale?”
Whether it’s for sale or not, Campbell still faces an uphill financial slog in her race. She’s raised $3,466 so far and her fundraiser with Jimmy Merchant was a mild success, although he and the venue cost the campaign $600, while another fundraiser cost $500. She’s also spent money on signs, but no media.
And then we come to the mayor’s race.
Did Joe Albero change his mind? Some believed so regarding the Salisbury Zoo, but a careful reading of this post some observers pointed out showed he only wanted it out of city control. One could consider it privatization. “I don’t recall making that statement” about shutting down the zoo – “no way” would he do so.
But Albero would be happy to comply with the disclosure law. “I have no problem exposing information that’s being required,” said Joe, instead chiding the “overbearing” lockout law.
Joe’s prime platform plank, though, is economic development. “I will become the next economic development director of Salisbury,” said Joe, who added that a $51 million business wouldn’t be run part-time, so neither should the city. We have to market Salisbury on the western Shore, Joe contended, pointing out the difference in costs between the two areas.
Yet, under Ireton, nothing has been done in four years, Albero charged, later extending the idle time to 16 years. “How’s that working out for you?” he asked. If elected, said Joe, there will be no more fingerpointing. He also pledged two key things: “I will not raise taxes” and “we will revitalize downtown Salisbury.” But downtown as a district now was “long on arts and short on entertainment.” We need to think big and make it a destination location, added Joe.
The loss of business “needs to change,” said Albero.
What may also need to change before the election is Albero’s financial status. Two of the five entities which donated to Albero in the second phase of reporting were local businesses, while two others were based out of Delaware. Joe has raised just $600 in the most recent period, bringing his overall total to $7,150 – with $5,000 being his own seed money. Two other oddities about his latest statement: no recorded expenditures and the series of sheets notes him as a “Candidate for City Council.” (The first report was properly shown as “Candidate for Mayor.”)
Jim Ireton has the advantage of incumbency, but it also yielded him tough questions. For example, the idea of false alarm fines, which was so unpopular that Ireton promised to send it back to Council for a work session. He added “I don’t have a vote” on it. The same was true about the “overwhelming” disclosure law being discussed.
In terms of economic development, Ireton bemoaned plans that have just sat there for thirty years, and stated you need “some money spent to make money.” Moreover, City Council “cut Urban Salisbury to the bone” despite the contention by Jim that they brought in $6-7 for every dollar spent. “What happened to Urban Salisbury is a tragedy,” said Jim.
“No one has fought harder for the city,” Ireton said when asked about his plan. He also jumped on Albero for his lack of political experience, saying “you have to know what an RFP is (and) you have to move forward in reality.”
When asked about new projects, Jim stated “I already think Salisbury is a wonderful place.” We needed to use its assets to create prosperity. He wrapped up his presentation by stating some of his accomplishments: moving the barges off the North Prong, a 40% drop in crime, and being selected as an All-American City among them. Indeed, Jim claimed “I have tried to say yes” but “my two opponents” have done otherwise – Ireton was lumping Albero with Campbell; however, he did not mention his own endorsement of Campbell opponent Jake Day.
While Albero and Ireton were roughly even after the first report, Ireton has also eclipsed the five-figure line in donations, gathering $10,148.65 in contributions. One noticeable aspect of Ireton’s contributors, though: over half hail from outside the immediate area, including State Senator Richard Madaleno, another openly gay politician.
Also, while Ireton has spent the usual money on radio ads, print media, and coffee – plenty of java from Main Roots Coffee here in town – it’s also notable that he and Jake Day shared the cost of an election night event at River’s Edge. While it’s not the worst-kept secret that Jim Ireton would like Debbie Campbell ejected from City Council, one has to wonder how the city will be run if Campbell is flipped aside for Day and the 3-2 logjam swings away from current beneficiaries Campbell, Council President Terry Cohen, and Tim Spies.
Next month, we may just find out. Moderator Ernie Colburn noted at the end that “there are no losers here.” If the wrong choices are made, I think he will be wrong and Salisbury will drift further along toward obscurity.
Being in the political world, I know a normal political fundraiser provides the opportunity to meet, for a price, at least one candidate for office (like this example from 2010 or this one from last year.) Sometimes the candidate in question will have another more prominent speaker to draw more interest.
Bur it’s not that often that political fundraisers use music as a draw. Certainly I’ve attended my share of benefit concerts over the years but they are normally put together for a cause like the misfortune of someone close to the sponsor’s heart, our veterans, or fighting against breast cancer. While it could be argued the beneficiary of an upcoming fundraiser has her own misfortune of needing to make up a deficit of over 500 votes in a city election, she’s obviously going to pull out all the stops to win.
I’ll talk about the musician first; this comes from the release put out by the campaign:
Jimmy Merchant of the ‘50s doo-wop group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers will headline a fundraiser for Debbie Campbell for City Council. For a suggested contribution of $20, community members can enjoy a live performance by a music legend, best known for the hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
The release goes on to reveal the date, time, and location: Friday, March 15 at 6 p.m. at Chesapeake East, 501 West Main Street in Salisbury. (This is an art gallery and cafe owned by local artist Dana Simson.) Debbie attempts to tie this into Third Friday fairly well, although the location is a little bit remote from the main Third Friday festivities being held this month in the Powell Building.
And indeed, thanks to his participation in the group, Merchant is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But in writing this piece I found he doesn’t play all that often anymore, living in semi-retirement down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. (I say semi-retirement as the website hasn’t been updated in over five years.)
With just 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the campaign as of Friday, I would presume anything made on this fundraiser will be plowed right back into a media blitz; a desperate effort for Debbie to keep her job against a candidate who’s not made any major errors so far and has no record to pick apart, let alone a reputation as the queen of “no.” Campbell’s fundraiser appeal ticks off a number of accomplishments: improving safety at the Onley-Bateman intersection near Salisbury University, contributing to the development of the Safe Streets Initiative, backing salary increases for local police officers, and improvements to the River’s Edge project.
But Debbie carries the burden – fairly or not – of being the poster child for a dysfunctional City Council, a reputation made that way by an occasionally petulant mayor who generally can only count on the backing of two of Council’s five members. If Campbell loses to Jake Day, that balance of power would shift in Jim Ireton’s favor, assuming, of course, that he wins re-election.
So it will be interesting to see how her fundraiser goes, since it will also be a barometer for how people perceive her odds of victory. If it’s one where only a handful show up, the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that people are looking to be on the winning side and it’s not hers.
If you want to find the person who most believes every vote counts, look no further than Salisbury District 1 Council hopeful April Jackson.
On the night of the primary election, she trailed Cynthia Polk for the second and final spot in the District 1 Council race by one vote, 40-39. Adding in the first wave of absentee and provisional ballots left her still one vote in arrears, 53-52. But the handful of absentee votes which are left aside to mix with any late votes coming in from overseas (legal as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day) proved to have that one vote Jackson needed to draw the race for second to a 53-53 tie. The City Charter states that in such a case all those who are tied for the last spot advance, so all we accomplished in the primary election was the elimination of Jack Heath in District 2. (By the way, the 218 votes Heath received were more votes than the total cast in District 1, which was 176. District 2, which is 4/5 of the city as currently constituted, drew 1,384 votes in the aggregate.)
So what does all of this mean? Obviously with two opponents to split the anti-incumbent vote, it may bode well for Shanie Shields to keep her job in District 1 – but with so few motivated voters in that district (judging by the puny percentage which bothered to turn out for the primary) a concerted effort by any of the three could swing momentum their way.
On the other hand, District 2 voters would have to embrace Debbie Campbell once again in a big way for her to retain her seat. Even if she receives all 218 Jack Heath supporters into her camp (I suspect she will draw the majority of them) she’s still in search of 308 votes to catch Jacob Day. It’s definitely his campaign to lose.
And the dynamics of the mayor’s race may play into the general election for Council as well. The general perception is that Debbie Campbell is in the corner of mayoral challenger Joe Albero, while Day and Ireton seem to draw from the same left-wing support base. Shanie Shields seems to be the proxy for Ireton in District 1, and Cynthia Polk could well be an Albero supporter from that same district – Albero and Campbell signs dot the front of her Kim Star Designs business, with the caveat that the building is also shared by another company.
But whether Albero will be a lifeline or albatross for Campbell (or vice versa) has yet to be seen.
Update 2-28: Comments from Jacob Day below.
With the votes almost all counted – aside from a handful of provisional and absentee votes - it looks like both incumbents will advance in City Council voting; however, one incumbent has a steep uphill battle to maintain her seat. Turnout for the election was pathetic, coming in under 10 percent although absentees may push turnout to double-digits.
In District 1, it’s not yet clear who will face Shanie Shields on April 2. While Shields has a comfortable lead with 55 votes, Cynthia Polk is just one vote ahead of April Jackson, by a 40-39 count. If Polk wins it will set up a District 1 rematch from 2009.
District 2 voters, however, would seem to prefer a new member of City Council. Jacob Day overwhelmed the field with 803 votes, an astounding 63% of the votes cast. Incumbent Debbie Campbell appears to have enough of a margin over third-place Jack Heath (271-197) to be the second place finisher, but she enters the general election campaign already 42 percentage points in arrears to Day, who has thus far run an aggressive campaign of signage, mailings, and door-to-door activities (including mine.) Perhaps sending in answers to my questions was the charm for Jacob.
For the pair who are eliminated, it could be a story of lost opportunities, although a one-vote difference means Jackson and Polk will be on pins and needles for several days. If April Jackson comes up short, there will always be the question of whether she would have prevailed had she not dealt with health issues in the critical final days.
As for Jack Heath, I just don’t think he ran much of a campaign. He never seemed as comfortable on the stump and didn’t have a lot of funding to get his name out there, particularly when compared to his much younger fellow challenger, who received a lot of money from the building community. Of course, there will be a group who complains that the local Republican Party did nothing to help Jack, based on the fact he came to a Republican Club meeting and had financial support from former GOP candidates, but as recently as 2010 Heath was an unaffiliated voter. In terms of messaging, Heath’s “Working Together” tagline was fairly blah and didn’t express a sense of leadership or change that’s needed.
So now the general election campaign begins; five weeks where the fighting for votes will probably take a more bitter turn.
Comment from Jacob Day:
It is energizing and encouraging to see so many people send such a clear signal that they want a change in the culture of negativism, discord and pessimism in our City government. Moreover, the message is that they want things to happen in Salisbury and we showed them that – if elected – that I will work diligently to make things happen.
I am so grateful to all of my volunteers, supporters and voters that sent this message. I am uplifted and I believe the City is as well. I want to thank Jack Heath for stepping up as a community leader, working hard in this campaign and remaining a role model throughout. I’m eager to discuss the challenges our City faces with voters and my plan for overcoming them over the next month. I am more assured than ever that we will restore partnership to Salisbury’s City government and we will restore pride and prosperity to Salisbury.
If you were wondering whether the challengers could financially keep up with the incumbents in the Salisbury primary elections, wonder no more. The initial pre-primary financial reports are out and there are some intriguing results.
First of all, it’s no surprise that the small District 1 race has attracted very little in the way of contributions; in fact, challenger Cynthia Polk begged off the detailed report as she didn’t raise enough. Fellow challenger April Jackson has only raised $595 from just four contributors, with the most interesting one being $200 from Friends of (Delegate) Rudy Cane. Incumbent Shanie Shields has raised $860 from 19 different benefactors, with the largest being a city-mandated maximum contribution of $250 from former Salisbury mayor Barrie Tilghman.
As would turn out to be the case for most contenders, the largest expenditure for the District 1 aspirants was signage, although Shields spent over $150 on a fundraiser which apparently only about broke even, based on contribution amounts.
More surprising was the amount of money raised on the District 2 race and who’s raised it. Jacob Day is the clear fundraising leader, with 50 line-item contributions (some were by couples) totaling $6,295. Out of all eight candidates, Day just missed being the overall head of the class – with a caveat, as I’ll explain later. Former mayor Barrie Tilghman maxed out her contribution to Day with $250, but so did a number of others I recognized as local builders, realtors, and developers – Brad Gillis, Michael Weisner, Ronald Morgan (of Becker Morgan Architects), members of the Gilkerson family, and so forth. Also worth noting on Day is that 30% of his individual contributions came from outside the area. The only other candidate with a similar profile is Jackson, who received two of her four donations from a Florida family – perhaps related?
Meanwhile, Jack Heath finished a distant second in contributions with $2,400 from 26 benefactors. A number of prominent local Republicans were in that group, including former County Executive candidates Ron Alessi and Joe Ollinger, who both chipped in $100 apiece. However, Heath also has over $2,800 in loans outstanding – all to wife Linda.
In a bit of a surprise, incumbent Debbie Campbell lags behind in the money race having raised only $1,026 from ten contributors, including $250 from herself.
As was the case in District 1 signage was among the leading expenditures for all three District 2 contenders, although Heath has also invested in a mailing. (It may not have reflected on this report, but my fiance and I both received a mailing from Day yesterday so his fundraising prowess is being spent.)
The mayor’s race, though, proves to be an interesting case in campaign finance.
Incumbent Jim Ireton takes the prize for neatest and easiest-to-decipher report, for the most part. There are 79 contributors listed, who donated a total of $5,818.65. (Five donated a hokey amount of $20.13, which explains the odd total.) His contributors run the gamut from local progressives to a number of local politicians like former County Councilman David MacLeod, Register of Wills Karen Lemon, and perennial Orphans’ Court candidate Peter Evans. There are also Democrats from around the state who added to the pot, such as Delegates Luke Clippinger, Maggie McIntosh, and Anne Kaiser, along with unsuccessful District 1 write-in Congressional candidate John LaFerla. Even Salisbury University president Janet Dudley-Eshbach and local left-wing activists Mike Pretl and Harry Basehart added a few dollars to Ireton’s till.
On the other hand, challenger Joe Albero raised the most money with $6,550. But as I said earlier, there’s a caveat – Albero donated $5,000 to his own cause. The other $1,550 came from just a dozen contributors, several of which were businesses. Included among that subset were Electrical Solutions, Gary Pusey & Sons, MoJo Management, Market Street Inn, Ltd., and Crown Sports Center. It’s not illegal, but Albero has by far the highest proportion of these business-based contributions. A perusal of Albero’s Salisbury News website shows several of these businesses are also advertisers.
It’s also worth mentioning that while Albero’s “official” shell of a mayoral website that’s currently ‘under construction’ has an authority line, Salisbury News - a site where Joe freely takes swipes at his opponent under the guise of “news” – does not. The same is true, however, of the rarely-updated On Your Side blog where Campbell is listed as a contributor along with Council president Terry Cohen, although Debbie apparently hasn’t authored a post since at least 2011. Neither Campbell nor Cohen post an authority line there, although tucked at the bottom is a disclaimer that they speak for themselves and not the whole Council.
Once again, signage seemed to be the largest expenditure in the mayoral race. But it’s interesting to note that the services of DiCarlo Printing were sought by both mayoral candidates as well as Jacob Day. John Robinson’s printing business was also a supplier to Albero and Day. The other candidates mainly utilized other local printers for their signage, although Campbell chose an out-of-state printer for hers. And while I don’t want this to be perceived as “pick on Albero” day, shouldn’t he have included the cost of his “Albero for Mayor” shirts as an expenditure? While he hadn’t officially filed yet at the time the shirts were designed and purchased, it would probably be prudent for the record to know where that money came from and who the supplier was.
But to me, the biggest surprise was how poorly the District 2 incumbent is doing in the fundraising department. While it’s quite likely she can survive the first round based on her name recognition, it’s very difficult to make up ground in the remaining weeks before the general election. In the last several cycles, those who finished “in the money” in the primary went on to win almost every time. The one recent exception I could find was where Gary Comegys overtook Tim Spies to grab the third and final spot in 2007 – Spies was third in the primary. But the dynamics of a “top three” race are different than this winner-take-all set of battles.
On Tuesday we will find out if all that money raised by the challengers is enough to secure a position in the General Election April 2.
Five of six Salisbury City Council hopefuls pleaded their cases before over 100 voters and observers at Perdue Hall on the campus of Salisbury University last evening. Included among the audience were the other three members of City Council not up for election and mayoral candidate Joe Albero. Mayor Jim Ireton was a no-show from the event as was District 1 candidate April Jackson, who was dealing with “health issues.”
Unfortunately, I arrived a little late and missed most of the candidates’ opening statements. But the questions, delivered by moderator Ernie Colburn, mainly dealt with the business aspect of Salisbury – something to be expected when a co-sponsor is the local Chamber of Commerce.
One example was the lidlifter, which asked candidates what their top three priorities for change would be. Shanie Shields would “build partnerships for positive change,” focusing on business, education, and advocating for a STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and math.) Her District 1 opponent, Cynthia Polk, told the audience “my first priority would be jobs.” She wanted to take advantage of local universities and the proximity of Wallops Island as well.
District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell believed the “things we can do are only limited by our ability to work real hard.” Economic development and public safety were among the items she wished to focus on in a third term, citing her “attention to detail” as an asset. She pointed to the River’s Edge development as a possible way to drive tourism business from Ocean City.
Meanwhile, Jake Day saw it as a matter of restoring prosperity and pride, particularly pride in our government, which he claimed suffered from a “culture of antagonism and pessimism…it has to change.” He wanted to encourage more youth involvement as well.
“My role will be one of a catalyst and culture changer,” said Jack Heath. He then reiterated the familiar themes he’s established throughout his campaign: enhancing the quality of life through jobs, recreation, education, and a safe environment, creating an inviting and vibrant downtown, and having the city government adopt the best ideas regardless of where they came from.
The next question seemed to be tailored as an attack on District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell, since it asked about the “culture of ‘no’” on the City Council. Heath drew the first response, calling himself “a negotiator…it all starts with culture.” He vowed that, if elected, “I will sign a civility agreement” and ask the others to sign as well. Jake Day agreed, saying we needed open communication and “an entire culture shift.” He promised to establish what he called “coffee talks” and a mayoral/council blog. (It’s worth pointing out that one mayoral candidate and two Council members already have blog sites.)
Debbie Campbell is one of those Council bloggers, but she disagreed with the premise of the question. “This Council has said yes to 70 out of 80 ordinances and 190 out of 200 resolutions,” she countered. If the Daily Times would put news on the news pages and opinion on the opinion pages, we would be better off, she assessed. On the other hand, the renovated Bateman Street/Onley Road intersection was an example where “no” eventually became “yes” once the project was improved, said Campbell.
Shanie Shields disputed Campbell’s account, noting that some of the projects which Council rejected would benefit District 1, like the Bricks project. She wouldn’t sign the Heath civility agreement, since it’s “just a piece of paper,” but wanted to bring back the goal-setting sessions Council used to have.
While Cynthia Polk didn’t have experience with the Council, she pointed back to her time at the former Dresser facility where she organized the employee assistance program. Citing the declining health of her husband of 46 years, she wistfully noted that “once I become a city council person, that’s my family. Family is everything.”
Returning to the economic scene, the question of how to attract higher-paying jobs was next. Debbie Campbell drew the leadoff answer and declared “I think that we leverage what we have…(Salisbury is) uniquely positioned to fill a void” on tech jobs. One other idea worth implementing was using the excess EDUs from the Linens of the Week property, offering them to an entrepreneur who could utilize the property as a job creator.
Shanie Shields, however, believed that property should revert to something along the lines of the neighborhood’s residential nature, like a community center. We need to give kids hands-on experience, Shanie declared, but concluded by asking the question “Are we business-friendly in this town? The answer is no.”
Jake Day used a sports analogy to begin his answer. “We have a great defense, but we need to turn it to a great offense.” He walked through a laundry list of accomplishments from those in his high school class, pointing out one thing in common: they weren’t done here. The kids left Salisbury because opportunities weren’t here, said Day. We need to be more proactive and set ourselves up for success, continued Jake, adding we should remove investment barriers, create a business incubator, and have a full-time economic development officer. Opponent Jack Heath more or less agreed with Day, adding “we need to challenge the university” to come up with additional ideas.
Cynthia Polk recalled the “runaround” she had to endure when opening her business, making the suggestion that it could be done as a piece of software the city could sell.
The next topic got the luxury of longer responses, and crime was the subject. Again Campbell received the lead answer, and she told the audience that while we’ve made progress – in part due to the Safe Streets program – there’s a long way to go. Debbie bemoaned the fact that, for years, the city lost officers to other jurisdictions where they could be paid better, but salary adjustments were made in this budget and the mayor chose not to veto them.
When it comes to increased pay for officers, “I couldn’t agree more,” said Jake Day. But he went further, calling for another 30 police officers. He warned we’ll have to make “hard choices” when it comes to other investments, but didn’t want to ignore technology improvements, either. Those were far down his list of crime-fighting measures, however, as the extra personnel was key.
Jack Heath, however, cautioned there’s another side of the issue – “Thirty cops is extremely expensive.” He quoted a figure of $100,000 per officer (which means the city would need another $3 million each year for 30 more police officers.) Technology could help in high crime areas, he added, but he would defer to the wishes of police Chief Barbara Duncan.
“You can’t lock everyone up,” said Cynthia Polk in her response, which focused more on the root causes. “I don’t know how much that would cost,” she said of after-school programs, but she felt something was needed to respond to a “sense of desperation” on the west side. Polk also came up with a thought about teaching chess in these after-school programs, claiming you could tell the difference between a “chess mind” and a “checkers mind.”
Shanie Shields was more clear: “I do not want to see the city become a police state…most of the people in jail look like me and Cynthia.” (All three District 1 candidates are black.) She called on more preventative programs, but believed they should be funded by Annapolis and Washington, “instead of locking up people.”
The next question dealt with the choice between raising taxes and cutting services. “That’s a loaded question,” Jack Heath replied. He believed revenue could be gained through increasing economic activity.
Jake Day agreed with that principle, although he couched it in terms of increasing property values. To achieve that end, Day called for a downtown-centric approach, wondering aloud how a city could value riverfront surface parking when “we have to create vibrant, livable places.” He repeated an earlier point about removing barriers to investment, and wanted to use budget surpluses to keep a 10% operating reserve. In the meantime, though, “we may need to cut services.”
Debbie Campbell disagreed, though. “This year proved we didn’t have to do either,” she noted. In fact, they funded a few extra items to avoid a tax increase as the budget plan they adopted had items she didn’t care for funding. And after she pointed out that business development pays for itself (as opposed to residential development being a net loss) Campbell concluded “you need a legislator who sharpens her pencil every year.”
Shanie Shields also believed the mayor didn’t have to raise taxes. “Taxes are a bad word,” said Shanie, but she also warned “you can’t cut everything in a budget…I don’t believe in going line by line.” Shainie also bemoaned the fact we have no retail downtown, complaining you have to get in the car and run to Royal Farms or Walgreens to get an aspirin.
So how do we create a business-friendly climate? the body was asked. For Jack Heath the answer was simple: it’s culture. Negotiate the best deals possible, and return to the inclusion process the city had several years ago. Cynthia Polk extended this inclusion idea to one of cultural inclusion, calling for a downtown filled with ethnic eateries.
Debbie Campbell was more direct: “I don’t believe in developer giveaways,” she said. But instead of dealing with excessive bureaucracy, business developers “ought to feel like they just checked into a five-star hotel,” Campbell concluded.
On the other hand, Shanie Shields called herself a “business-friendly person” and told those gathered we need to bring people to the table. We weren’t willing to work with the developers of the abandoned Station 16 project, a building which is downtown sitting empty, said Shanie. She praised the expansion of Salisbury’s enterprise zone to new areas along Snow Hill Road and Eastern Shore Drive.
Once again pounding the themes of being proactive and reducing barriers, Jake Day said we need to become a community willing to invest in itself. But we need no new impact fees, Day said.
The closing statements were quite diverse. Cynthia Polk made it known that she’s not the greatest public speaker, but she had other skills in business ownership and development to make up for it. “I am very versatile,” she said. “I look at people from soul to soul.”
Shanie Shields felt it was her “experience and love for people” that gave her the edge. She spoke about growing up in Salisbury and dealing with family tragedies here, but she had chosen to stay in the town where she was born.
“I stand on my record,” said Debbie Campbell. Noting that legislation required someone who was “detail-oriented,” she cautioned that if a proposal violates state or federal law, “that should be enough to stop you.” It was not her goal to have a “rubber-stamp Council.”
Vowing to bring a “new energy” and “spirit of partnership,” Jake Day seized a little bit on Campbell’s theme, noting that his time in the Army had made him a leader, a planner, and detail-oriented. He would work hard in the position, Day added.
The final word belonged to Jack Heath, who, when asked why he was interrupting his retirement to run, said it was because he loves the city. “Work needs to be done (and) I have the experience,” Heath stated. He promised to make decisions based not on his personal beliefs but what was best for Salisbury.
This is among the final public forums for the six City Council candidates, who will be whittled down to four come next Tuesday. Obviously April Jackson’s health issues come at a most inopportune time as she faces two political veterans, and it may be hard for her to overcome that disadvantage. Yet with such a tiny probable number of votes cast in her district, it’s really difficult to know just how the District 1 race will turn out.
In District 2, however, I suspect Campbell and Day have the advantage going into the final weekend. Jack Heath needs to make a last-minute push for votes to avoid elimination, as I see it.
For some reason, next week is very busy with meetings in the public interest for local residents.
In fact, that docket begins today with a townhall meeting on the Second Amendment hosted by Congressman Andy Harris and featuring local perspective from Delegates Mike McDermott and Charles Otto. That’s going on at noon today out in Ocean City at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront, 6600 Coastal Highway. I would expect my friend Jackie Wellfonder will have full coverage on her site, since I can’t make it. (Right Coast Conservative beat Jackie to it.)
After catching a breather tomorrow, Monday’s a holiday. But it’s not stopping the Daily Times from hosting the first of two City Council forums, this one for residents in District 1. As reporter Jeremy Cox alerted me, The Daily Times ”wants to hear what issues matter most in the Salisbury city elections. Whatever issues are voted on by the community will be put to the candidates for their positions and become newspaper stories ahead of the Feb. 26 primary and April 2 general election. Light refreshments will be served.”
That Monday meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church at the corner of Delaware and Booth Streets in Salisbury from 5-7 p.m. It’s the same location where the NAACP forum was held last month. One thing not made clear is whether mayoral candidates Joe Albero and Jim Ireton would be invited; my assumption is that they are. But since they’re not subjected to the primary they may only come to observe the potential council member they’ll work with from District 1, whether it’s incumbent Shanie Shields, newcomer April Jackson, or the inimitable Cynthia Polk.
On Tuesday there will be a City Council Debate at Perdue Hall (Room 156) on Salisbury University’s campus, sponsored by the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce. It will run from 7-8:30 p.m. Questions from the public are encouraged, and can be submitted through either the Chamber’s Facebook page or via e-mail: chamber (at) salisburyarea.com. (Since there’s no mayoral primary, those two candidates will duke it out on March 26, along with the four City Council primary survivors.)
Wednesday turns to a meeting of another sort, as the Wicomico County Council is holding a hearing on the proposed Tier Maps at 6 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center:
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Septic Bil (sic), enacted by the State of Maryland, may limit the number of residential septic systems allowed on property within the A-1 Agricultural-Rural Zoning District.
The Wicomico County Council will hear public comments regarding the area proposed for limiting septic systems and requests that all interested persons appear at said time and place for the purpose of expressing their views and opinions concerning the matter.
In addition, this legislation may impact the future use and value of your property.
This meeting should bring a lot of spirited discussion, mostly in opposition to the state’s taking over of the approval process (as they have to rubberstamp these tier plans, or else certain developments can’t be approved.)
Finally, Thursday will bring the second of two Daily Times candidate forums as the hopefuls for District 2 take the stage. This event will also be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center from 5-7 p.m. Voters in that district will need to choose between incumbent Debbie Campbell and first-time aspirants Jake Day or Jack Heath.
Wow. I’m not sure I can make all of those events with my outside work schedule – that 5 p.m. Thursday start looks awful tenuous (and that’s my district to boot.) So it may be up to you to see for yourself what all the hubbub is about.
Wicomico County NAACP president Mary Ashanti called Wednesday night’s forum an opportunity to meet the candidates, and nearly 100 interested citizens saw all eight hopefuls for Salisbury city office meet at First Baptist Church to square off in the first of what promises to be several candidate forums leading to Salisbury’s primary election February 26. Each of the two City Council races will be pared from three hopefuls to two; however, the mayor’s race will not need a primary as just two candidates filed.
The two mayoral hopefuls opened the show, and it was clear from the outset that incumbent Jim Ireton and challenger Joe Albero certainly aren’t the best of friends. In his 90-second introduction, mayor Jim Ireton spoke about his accomplishments, being “excited about the last four years,” and “sharing a positive vision.” Yet three questions in he slammed Albero as one “who sees color,” insinuating that Albero is racist based in part by the content on his blog. That tone, along with a number of loaded audience questions presumably aimed at the challenger, brought an admonishment from Mary Ashanti midway through the mayoral portion of the forum that “we do not permit antagonism.” She would not use the “insulting” questions presented by some audience members.
Yet as the pair sparred over questions mainly dealing with the themes of crime, race relations, and jobs, the two laid out competing visions for the city. Moderator Orville Penn did a good job keeping them (and everyone else) relatively on track.
Ireton pointed out that crime was down, which he called an “amazing feat,” the Wicomico River was getting cleaner, the city enjoyed a $16 million surplus, and tenants had a bill of rights. Indeed, Type 1 crime is statistically lower, and as Jim noted, if the crime rate was up “my opponent would lay that at my feet.” Albero, as predicted, countered with his belief the crime numbers are “being fudged,” bringing a charge from Ireton that Albero was calling the Salisbury Police Department “liars.”
But in order to continue the downward trend, Jim called for a holistic approach to reduce recidivism. On the other hand, Albero thanked Council members Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen for introducing the “Safe Streets” program to Salisbury but believed SPD morale is down and “we need to be behind them.”
Regarding race relations, Jim proclaimed we “must celebrate” the fact that Salisbury is now 44% minority, but would not commit to diversity in hiring, nor did Albero. Yet both wanted to be job creators.
One huge difference between the Albero and Ireton approaches, though, was the function of downtown Salisbury. Joe envisioned downtown Salisbury with a “Bourbon Street” feel, with entertainment and dining venues – he didn’t believe retail could survive downtown, even if he accomplished his goal of removing the parking meters. He also promised to be 50% mayor and 50% economic development director. Conversely, Ireton saw progress coming from incentives and planning – we need to make waterfront properties useful, and not parking lots, said Jim. “We need to have retail,” he added.
Another sharp difference came on a question about annexation. When Albero asked, “don’t you think we have enough on our hands?” he hastened to add that things are “out of control” in Salisbury and we need to rebuild our infrastructure. But Jim sharply reminded Joe the city can’t just annex land because they have to have the consent of property owners to do so.
In the end, though, it was Jim Ireton who said he was “more excited” about running this time than he was in 2009. “I believe in this city (and) I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Ireton concluded.
For his part, Joe Albero also believed a brighter, better future for Salisbury is “doable.” “I will be a full-time mayor,” promised Joe.
Compared to the mayoral debate, the three-way tussles between District 1 and District 2 opponents were drama-free. In fact, the three District 1 contenders seemed to find a lot of common ground.
Incumbent Shanie Shields ran on her record of accomplishments in District 1, but was also critical of some missed opportunities over the last four years, in particular not developing the former Linens of the Week property or the old Station 16 firehouse. She also called the removal of the city attorney from the purview of the executive branch “a travesty for the city of Salisbury.”
Meanwhile, challenger (and 2009 candidate) Cynthia Polk focused on a platform of “living wage” jobs and youth development. Polk is the only non-incumbent with previous officeseeking experience; the rest are first-time candidates.
The other challenger, April Jackson, was more outspoken. She desired to “bring out the best in Salisbury,” but was critical of Council disagreements. “We’re sending some God-awful vibes,” she said, adding that they need to “resolve their anger issues.” She also panned the juvenile justice system for the leniency in sentencing she thought was contributing to Salisbury’s crime problem, but stressed as well the aspect of rehabilitation.
In the District 2 race, incumbent Debbie Campbell seemed to be a little defensive about having to say no all the time. Debbie’s opponents didn’t question her record, but during her remarks she stated the claim that 70 out of 80 ordinances and 190 of 200 resolutions had passed. The work can be hard to understand, Campbell added, but in her tenure she had prevented a tax increase, pushed the redevelopment of the River’s Edge project – a development she promised would be “amazing” – and saved Salisbury citizens $1 million.
Campbell, though, disagreed with portions of the Ireton plan for downtown, telling the audience subsidies and giving away parking lots are not solutions.
Downtowns are Jake Day’s specialty, and many of this challenger’s remarks came back to how Salisbury could improve its inner core. Jake was running, though, because he was “tired of old politics standing in the way of progress,” contending that the list of Council issues he disagreed with was “pretty long.” On the other hand, he got to see a number of other success stories through his work and wanted to bring that experience here.
The other challenger, Jack Heath, promoted his three-pronged vision for Salisbury: jobs, education, and recreation in a safe city, a vibrant, inviting downtown, and a city government which adopts the best ideas from its citizen. Having established that as his comfort zone, Heath stuck to those tenets throughout the conversation. It seemed to suit him, for as he noted in closing, “I’ve been known to be a negotiator.”
Of the two challengers, Day was the more aggressive and quicker on his feet. After Debbie Campbell had answered a previous question on diversity by pointing out local committees and commissions were a training ground for future policymakers, Jake closed by citing his work on various local boards and announcing, “I’m done training – I’m ready to fight.”
Obviously this forum focused a lot on issues affecting minority citizens, but in looking at what was said and the individual races I drew a couple conclusions.
In both Council races, one challenger seemed more at ease than the other. It was obvious that April Jackson is much more comfortable in this setting than Cynthia Polk, who probably campaigns best door-to-door. Similarly, Jake Day was more outspoken and aggressive in courting voters than Jack Heath; it follows that Day was the first to announce his intention and already has yard signs out. Heath has some catching up to do or he’ll be the odd man out.
It also seems to me that this mayoral race will be one of the dirtiest, slimiest campaigns in city history. Things will be said that, in ten years, may make the city a laughingstock – I just feel it in my bones. Hopefully both of these men will prove me wrong, but my reading of the two personalities tells me otherwise.
Yes, things are that slow these days. In fact, they’re so slow that even the upcoming city elections in Salisbury promise to be snoozers.
With just 20 days remaining before the January 15 filing deadline, there’s a dearth of willing people out there to run for the three open positions. Whether it’s a 2010 decision to set the term of office back to about 2 1/2 years (all city offices voted upon in 2013 will once again be up for election in November, 2015) or the prospect of being savaged on the internet, the election front is unusually quiet this time.
I’ve heard a number of names bandied about, but until one or more sign on the dotted line it’s likely that city government will be the same six months hence with no one stepping forward to challenge Mayor Jim Ireton, District 1 Council member Shanie Shields, and District 2 Council member Debbie Campbell. While Adam Roop and Joe Albero have announced intentions to run for office, the lack of movement on their part leads me to believe they could be sitting this one out. For a challenger, it’s about name recognition and neither have gone beyond their comfort zones to any extent, such as making a formal announcement. I can expect that an incumbent would wait until right before the filing deadline to verify they’re trying again, but that doesn’t always work as well for a challenger.
If no more than two candidates file for any office – which was the case for the District 2 Council seat on the ballot four years ago – the primary process is skipped and both automatically qualify for the general election. Both District 1 and the mayoral election drew four candidates in 2009.