As I explained in Part 1, it works out much better for writing this (and I would think for reading) to split the accounting into two parts. And while most would have believed the main event would be the County Executive race – particularly because one candidate believes strongly in a countywide police force to supplant the four separate law enforcement jurisdictions we have now – it only served as an undercard to a verbal bout between State’s Attorney candidates.
To once again set the stage, the event was moderated by PACE Director Dr. Adam Hoffman and where I use the terms ‘law enforcement’ and ‘law enforcement officers’ they will be shortened to LE and LEOs, respectively.
Let’s begin with the County Executive race, giving first dibs to the challenger.
With decades of business experience to draw on, Joe Ollinger obviously looks at government from an “outside looking in” standpoint and eventually contrasted himself with his opponent, who to Joe has a different perspective in seeing things through the lense of years of being a bureaucrat.
Since this was a FOP function, Ollinger concentrated heavily on the first question and his proposal for a single, countywide police force. It would be “a lot more efficient,” argued Ollinger, who asked the crowd whether, if they were design things from scratch, they would have such a situation. It’s a situation which prevents communication and cooperation, added Joe. Later, in his closing statement, Ollinger observed that the only resistance to change seems to be coming from inside of government.
Ollinger also revealed that he was only interested in the office for a single, four-year term and believed that, “we shouldn’t have career politicians” doing the task. He also advocated a “pay-for-performance” plan and accountability for the 48% of our county budget devoted to the Board of Education.
Conversely, Rick Pollitt was “moved by President Kennedy’s call to citizenship” and had devoted his career to public service as a commitment to his community. Having said that, though, he pointed out that this was his first elected post.
Regarding the topic of crime, Pollitt was blunt: “I don’t have all the answers.” But he stressed that he’d worked for stronger partnerships and the best equipment and tools, including a push for the LEOPS pension. He also was firmly against combining the agencies because he believed the 30,000 Wicomico citizens who lived in the involved municipalities had no interest in doing so.
In contrast to Ollinger’s businesslike approach, Pollitt stated, “I understand providing services is not like running a business.” Rather than things always being about the bottom line, companies are attracted to the quality of life as the “greatest single economic development tool.” It was a theme he repeated in his closing statement, which occurred after his lone stumble – retreating briefly from the podium Pollitt and Hoffman collided, sending Rick to the floor.
As I noted in Part 1 there was the opportunity for the audience to ask questions, and one member asked Joe Ollinger how a new police agency would be paid for. Ollinger recalled that this subject has been around for at least 15 years, since he served on a countywide consolidated functions committee. The consolidation could have “funding as it is right now,” with the expected savings returned to the municipalities on a proportional basis to their original contributions.
This was the point where Rick Pollitt again responded that “no one wants to consolidate…it’s not gonna happen.” But he agreed there were other areas pointed out by the committee which still could be.
At last, we are left with the State’s Attorney race. This one I’m going to handle on more of a blow-by-blow basis because, of the five audience questions allowed, four were regarding issues in this race.
It didn’t take long for Matt Maciarello to start the verbal jousting – after going through his background and history of leadership, he then claimed, “I believe I’m the most qualified to be State’s Attorney.” Moving into crime-related specifics, he vowed to bring communication and collaboration to the office and to specifically target the criminals who affect us – he was “passionate” about keeping us safe.
This passion was a general theme of Matt’s, but he also took part of his opening remarks to accuse his opponent of being conflicted in the Thomas Leggs/Sarah Foxwell case.
Obviously, W. Seth Mitchell wasn’t going to let that stand too long. He briefly went over his “history of community service” and time in the State’s Attorney office before answering the question about why he should be elected over his opponent quite simply – “it’s called experience.” (He also pointed out the 17 year age difference between him and Maciarello.) To him, the best way to fight crime is through “thorough prosecution.”
So we had the battle lines drawn – Maciarello touting his passion and new ideas while Mitchell countered with the experience card.
After the other table had taken its turn speaking (as detailed in Part 1), wouldn’t you know the first question had to have come from a Mitchell supporter – “how many cases have you tried?”
Maciarello admitted he had tried but two jury trials and “several” bench trials, but countered that he knew his way around civil and crimimal litigation through his career and added that the State’s Attorney doesn’t try every single case himself. After bringing up the fact that longtime local attorney Arch McFadden had endorsed him, Matt countered the Mitchell contention by saying, “experience counts, but the right kind of experience counts too.” He again brought up his leadership roles and rapid career advancement. “If you want a leader, you’ll vote for me,” said Matt, but “if you want someone who’s stood in court” you could vote for Mitchell. Vowed Matt, “I’m the guy who’s going to reduce crime in Wicomico County.”
After Mitchell guessed his count of cases was in the thousands, he snidely remarked that, “Maybe I should vote for him…I guess Matt will do it all.” Seth continued, “if you want someone who’s tried cases, he concedes it’s me.” Mitchell also believe he was the one who the staff would look up to, and reiterated, “if you want experience in the courtroom, it is me.”
I then asked a question I’d raised before, regarding the fact that outgoing SA Davis Ruark also took over the job at a young age, his early 30’s.
Maciarello replied, “I’ve grown just as a candidate,” and that he was “taking the role and responsibility seriously.” He further believed, “a young mind is a flexible mind” and promised to embed prosecutors into LE and the community at large. Citing his energy and drive, he repeated that “I can do this job” and vowed again that, “I’m not going to sleep until crime is addressed.”
In reply, Mitchell said that “I think you can (grow in the office)” but stressed the relationships he’d built up and that “I will be a tough prosecutor.” He also said he’d learned a lot from Sam Vincent as his opponent over the years.
Mitchell also claimed that Davis Ruark had “4 to 6 years” of experience in the State Attorney’s office before he took over. While I can’t verify his claim, I can verify that Ruark passed the bar in 1981, about 6 years prior to his appointment as State’s Attorney. According to Matt’s website, he passed the bar in December 2003, so he’s working on seven years in the field.
Needless to say, someone asked how each would handle the Thomas Leggs/Sarah Foxwell case. This time Mitchell had the first shot.
And Mitchell made sure to say that, “I’ve made several calls to Davis Ruark” regarding the situation and, should he choose to keep Ruark on as an assistant in the case, “there’s nothing to stop me.” But Seth promised “I’ll take care of that case,” and stated the irony of one of Leggs’ defense attorneys (Arch McFadden) endorsing a man who would be in charge of putting his onetime client away.
Maciarello countered by calling this contrast a classic difference in leadership styles and said of Mitchell, “he does not understand attorney ethics.” It was “reckless” to put Mitchell on the Leggs case when he also defended the accused murderer in a case several years ago. Continuing his passionate appeal, Matt told the crowd, “I’m not letting my community go down the tubes.”
The final question addressed to the pair made reference to Davis Ruark’s support of 30 new police officers in Salisbury.
Maciarello expounded on his “proactivity” and wanted to look for grant money to help out. “I’m itching to get in there” and start solving problems like these.
Mitchell was more cautious in his approach. “We always need more police officers on the street,” he said, but getting to that point would require a “balancing act.” Playing off Matt’s analogy of being a football coach in his response, Mitchell chided him by saying you can’t be a football coach but you need to be one of the players.
As for the allegations leveled by Matt on attorney ethics, Seth was “very angry…he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
In the courtroom, it often comes down to the final argument; the point where the cases are summarized.
Maciarello told the FOP, “I want to make you the most effective crime fighter you can be.” He pointed out that he’d ran a positive campaign, but when it came to the top 6 gang members in Salisbury he warned, “I’m coming for you.”
“I’m going to exceed your expectations,” he continued, and “communication will be the culture of my office.” Summing up, Maciarello opined, “a State’s Attorney is a leader…my opponent has a myopic vision” of the office.
Mitchell based his close on the question, “if you were a criminal, who would you most fear? You have to demand the skills to do this job.” Recounting the experience and resume gap, he said that “you don’t start at the top.”
“Don’t go with a novice,” he concluded, “go with a professional.”
On the whole, it was obvious that Matt was passionate – almost to a fault. Yet he also seemed to have a better vision of the administrative side of the job – where the office could go and how to be a leader in it. Moreover, you always wonder how someone who was a defense attorney would fare on the other side, and could he be effective putting away those he may have defended in the past (including, but not limited to, Thomas Leggs.)
In any case, this donnybrook for State’s Attorney may have become the most contentious race in the area, one which seems to be a small-scale model of larger races like the Ehrlich-O’Malley or Harris-Kratovil contests. Potted plants need not apply.