The City of Aberdeen will hold its municipal election for mayor and four city council members on Tuesday, November 6 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Senior Citizens Center at 7 Franklin Street.
The Harford County Municipal Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 128 will be sponsoring “Meet the Candidates Night” on Wednesday, October 10 at The American Legion Post 128, 44 N Parke Street. The doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the event begins at 7 p.m. Organizers are advertising it as a chance for citizens to meet and ask questions of those running for office.
For those who can’t wait that long or won’t be attending, here is The Dagger’s take.
S. Fred Simmons (mayor): http://www.aberdeen-md.org/Council.htm
Who is Fred Simmons?
A book could be written on his psyche alone, so how am I supposed to condense Simmons and his two years as mayor into a single paragraph? One thing can be said about Simmons – for better or worse, he certainly shakes up the status quo. This insurance salesman turned airport owner turned mayor is a former city economic development chair, Ripken Stadium liaison, Harford Community College trustee and hair-trigger vigilante.
Two years ago, there were serious concerns about how a guy who was largely just a behind-the-scenes political insider/instigator extraordinaire – a classic anti-hero – would be able to run Aberdeen. Those questions have been sufficiently answered: you might not like his style, but Simmons’ results-based form of progressive governing has led to significant and, more importantly, noticeable changes in the city. Perhaps the best measuring stick is to think back three years ago to the Mayor Doug Wilson/city manager Pete Dacey administration. What was the city doing, where was it heading, what were its goals? People seem to sense a sea change in the works – even if it means questionable legal maneuvering or overly-militaristic policing practices – and that is more than can be said for anytime in the last half-decade in Aberdeen. It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Simmons ushering Aberdeen through the upcoming base realignment process at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The guy’s been talking about it for the last half-dozen years.
Perhaps what is best for the city and best for Simmons’ future at the helm of the city is for his continuance as mayor to be tempered with an even-keeled city council who won’t fall victim to the same mistakes as the current council and end up letting Simmons have carte blanche control of what goes on in Aberdeen.
Mike Hiob (council): http://www.aberdeen-md.org/Council.htm
The leading vote getter in his first two campaigns for city council, this singing, dancing and guitar strumming Democrat has fashioned himself into something of a Gov. Martin O’Malley in miniature. He might have raised some eyebrows and some ire with his support for the Wetlands annexation and increasingly cozy relationship with Simmons, but Hiob remains as likeable and approachable an everyman as ever.
My respect for Hiob isn’t just because I’m also a singer, dancer and guitar strummer [no, I’m not fashioning myself into something of a Mike Hiob in miniature]. I’ve watched him for years while I was a reporter and saw a guy who could never stay angry at someone for more than a few minutes and was always able to separate work and personal relationships. His band, after all, played at fundraisers and victory parties for Harford County Executive David Craig, a staunch Republican. The only criticism of Hiob may be that I was able to go through this entire paragraph mentioning his musical abilities several times, but not once his legislative skills. Perhaps he’ll bring some more substance to city hall with him next time, when he returns for what will likely be a third straight term as the leading council vote getter.
Ron Kupferman (council): http://www.aberdeen-md.org/Council.htm
After a decade or so on and off the city council, this was supposed to be Kup’s Big Term. It was for about the first year, but during the second half of his term Kup has been The Invisible Man. There was a time, about two-and-a-half years ago, when Kup came running to me and my colleagues at the newspaper literally begging for help. He was the odd-man-out on a Democratically-dominated council and didn’t know how to deal with being cut out of the loop. Fast-forward through the 2005 city election: Kup is suddenly president of a now largely Republican city council and doing the shunning of council colleagues himself.
That all changed after the Wetlands annexation debacle, when Kup, who has decades-worth of friends and business connections in Aberdeen, was shaken by the never-before-seen level of public dismay and began backing away from Mayor Simmons and his annexation plan. It remains to be seen if he has successfully distanced himself from that controversial vote or has just slinked away into the recesses of political obscurity, to be forgotten on Nov. 7.
Ruth Elliott (council): http://www.aberdeen-md.org/Council.htm
She became, almost by choice, the black sheep of the city council – often serving as the “1” on those 4-1 votes of the mayor and city council and asserting to be left out of the process on crucial decisions. It goes without saying that Elliott is far and away the council member quickest to take up the cause of her constituents, but there are those, myself occasionally included, who would fault her for taking the side of the citizens too often – even when it obviously was misguided or not in the best interest of the city at large. And as far as her complaints of being left in the dark, Simmons perhaps said it best with his famous quote, “This council does not exist to mix up your Pablum,” – which insinuated Elliott had to get involved and learn on her own about the goingson of the city rather than waiting for someone to spoon feed her the information.
Others claim Elliott might be just as disingenuous as the colleagues from who she tries to distance herself. They point out she changed her vote on the Wetlands annexation from “yes” to “no” only after she saw the public outrage coming down the tracks. There were also rumors a half-year ago that she was going to take on Simmons for mayor in this election. And let’s not forget the incident in which she ‘accidentally’ picked up and took home Simmons’ private notebook. Elliott may not be as clueless her detractors believe.
Dave Yensan (council): http://www.aberdeen-md.org/Council.htm
He is perhaps the most troublesome of the candidates for me personally. Yensan can be as friendly and earnest as anyone, but in the blink of an eye or change of location can turn into one of the most foul-mouthed, blindly partisan, right wing nut jobs you can imagine. Lest he or anyone else challenge me on this point, I still have saved some of the wildly emotional emails he has sent me.
Anyway, if I seem to be coming down the hardest on Yensan it’s perhaps only because I had so much hope for him. [BACKSTORY: It was largely my voice on the editorial board that led to a local newspaper’s endorsement of Yensan two years ago – a decision I had to live with, and hear about incessantly, as I was blamed for “creating a monster” with every increasingly wrong-headed move Yensan made] On some level, I do like Yensan and he does seem responsive to the people of Aberdeen, but he’s fallen too completely for my liking into the role of Simmons’ henchman.
Mike Bennett (for mayor): http://aberdeenmayor-mikebennett.com/
I don’t know too much about this guy, which is odd because I’ve spent a lot of time in Aberdeen without having bumped into him. A retired Maryland State Police lieutenant, according to his biography, Bennett obviously has the law enforcement and budget analysis chops, which many elected officials usually lack.
The question is whether he has the leadership abilities and vision to forge ahead where others have coasted along. Bennett faces a formidable foe in Simmons – a municipal mayor who is currently taking on Harford County Sheriff L. Jesse Bane. Bennett may be a nice guy and will certainly draw from the anti-Simmons vote, but suffers from having a third and perhaps even more intriguing candidate vying for the same mayor’s spot…
Nicole Burlew (for mayor): http://www.harfordflyer.com/
Wow. It’s about time. A 19-year-old, 2006 graduate of Aberdeen High School, currently studying Political Science at Towson University got into the mayoral race late, but is far and away the most intriguing candidate this election season.
OK, throw away all the talk that she has zero political experience, only about a dozen years of sentient life experience to draw upon and will have to make thedifficult decision of how to deal with being a full time Aberdeen mayor and college student if elected – and Burlew presents some interesting challenges for her two mayoral competitors. Most significantly is that she is the polar opposite of Fred Simmons. That will garner her a thousand or so votes right there. If she is able to mobilize even 1 percent of her 18 year old or older friends and former classmates at Aberdeen High to cast a ballot in her favor, Burlew will bring in…well, at least 1 percent more voters than of the other candidates who aren’t exactly well known among the city’s younger residents.
Now, considering the city’s mayoral election traditionally brings with it a good deal of mud slinging [there’s sure to be a story on the Simmons vs. Wilson wars at some point], what are either of Burlew’s opponents, both of whom are old enough to be her dad, going to say negatively about her? She’s exactly what you want to see – a young person interested in the community where she lives. Speaking of dads, Burlew’s father has some serious military experience – enough to put even the sidearm-packing Simmons on notice. Burlew’s biggest challenge might be in Bennett. The two will split the anti-Simmons vote and likely let Fred waltz back into city hall without so much as breaking a sweat. And here I thought he was going to have to plant a mayoral candidate to achieve that anti-Fred split…
Rick Denu (for council): http://www.rickdenu.net/
This serious candidate already made his feelings known and struck the first blow this week on The Daggerby openly challenging Simmons’ controversial law enforcement tactics. Denu was heavily involved in the Harford County Municipal Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 128’s effort two years ago to secure the power to collectively bargain and was a supporter of both Simmons and Yensan.
I’m not quite sure when and how the falling out occurred, but Denu, a corporal, no longer works for the Aberdeen Police Department and openly criticizes Simmons and Yensan. Denu certainly has the law enforcement and political know-how to serve on the city council, as well as the guts to stand up to a powerful mayor. I’ve also known Denu to be a wonderful father (to his own children, not to me), as well as a sword-wielding judo master. A formidable Election Day candidate.
Ruth Ann Young (for council):
My dark horse candidate. I spent years sitting beside her in empty council chambers and all manner of public meetings from one end of Harford County to the other. You can question Young’s political experience, but you simply can’t question her heart or her intentions – both of which are pure and good.
A frequent contributor during meetings, Young may have more public speaking experience than most elected officials and she’s not the type to speak up just because she likes the sound of her own voice. She knows what she’s talking about. Young is also a tireless librarian of public documents, newspaper clippings and all other matter of ephemera related to the topic at hand. She usually takes more notes than both the officials conducting and the reporters covering the public meetings, to which she is typically the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Young will also be tough to contend with on Election Day. She certainly won over much of the city during the Wetlands annexation hearings and built up her fan base during subsequent political matters. Young also has an inscrutable character and no one will ever dare, much less be able, to find fault in her actions and intentions. I’ll say it here first, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simmons and Yensan support Ruth Ann Young for a city council seat. She may just be a kinder, gentler, more organized, better informed and certainly more controllable version of Ruth Elliott – who Simmons and Yensan have been trying to get rid of for the entirety of their two-year terms.
Janice Grant (for council):
Janice’s name is a familiar one for longtime Aberdeen residents – she is a well-respected, well-connected founder of the locally-based civil rights advocacy group Grass Roots Steering Foundation and is associated with local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (that feels really weird and wrong to type).
Grant has also become something of a perennial candidate. She has run unsuccessfully at least twice for city council and a third time was unable to collect enough signatures to be declared a candidate. Two years ago she launched what ultimately turned out to be a failed campaign for mayor. Nonetheless, this political activist, who has been living in Aberdeen for a half-century, has been at the forefront of sticky racial and social issues since the beginning and shouldn’t be so easily written off.
Bernard DeWitt (for council):
A relatively young (in his early 40s) political newcomer when he popped up and ran unsuccessfully for city council two years ago, DeWitt has been popping up in all the right places ever since. I ran into him outside Havre de Grace High School a spring or so ago while he was supporting some Democratic candidates and was present when Simmons later inducted him as some sort of community liaison in front of the Aberdeen City Council.
I was on the editorial board at the local paper who endorsed DeWitt, not because of the color of his skin – there are very seldom minority or even female candidates running for most of these municipal elected offices, which tend to fill up with old, white, retired guys – but because here was a young, bright, likeable guy who just dropped right out of the sky and seemed to be just what the city needed. He is a retired Army staff sergeant who transitioned into working as a defense contractor – a very important perspective to have on the Aberdeen City Council considering BRAC and what it will be bringing to APG. DeWitt ended up doing very well for a rookie candidate (outpacing the sitting city council president) and should do even better this go-round, although he will be hurt by the plethora of candidates running this year – a scenario which tends to favor incumbents.
Steve Johnson (for council/UPDATED):
OK, here is a strange one and I say strange because all I know about this guy for sure is that he is NOT a resident of Aberdeen. He is owner of Johnson Family Pharmacy in downtown Aberdeen and is currently chairman of the city’s Economic Development Commission, a fairly high profile position once held by now-mayor Simmons himself, but his candidacy may be in jeopardy and I have some first-person perspective on why.
Maybe a year or so ago, when I was in full swing as editor at The Recordnewspaper, there came an incident in which a portion of the city was not in favor of a certain proposal supported by Aberdeen’s EDC. When the topic was being discussed during a public hearing, being run by Johnson, a resident was trying to make the oft-used point that those proposing a project can’t fully understand its impact unless they live in and around the area in question. So it was posed to Johnson whether or not he lived in the city. He answered in the negative. I remember this so vividly because the next question from the increasingly riled crowd was asking Johnson how many members of the EDC actually lived in Aberdeen. His answer was that he wasn’t sure, but a subsequent examination revealed, unbelievably, that no member of the city’s Economic Development Commission actually resided within the municipal limits of Aberdeen – with the exception of EDC council liaison Yensan, who of course doesn’t count.
I have it on good authority that while Johnson may be well-connected in Aberdeen and even reside in an Aberdeen zipcode, he actually lives in Perryman and turned in, along with his council candidacy application, a letter from his attorney challenging the city’s requirement that a candidate for public office must have lived within the city for at least two years prior to the election. We’ll have to see how this all plays out – Johnson may argue that he lives in an Aberdeen zipcode or could rely on the excuse frequently used by his friend and political handler, former state senator Art Helton, and just claim as his address that of his Aberdeen business.
A great storyline that plays itself out each year is how Helton, leader of the New Democratic Club of Harford County and a Darlington resident, finds a way to vote in Aberdeen’s municipal elections. He usually lists his mailing address as that of a small office he keeps above one of his West Bel Air Avenue properties. At any rate, Johnson is a candidate for the time being, but could soon find himself off the ballot and back to guiding the city’s economic development from afar.
UPDATE: Word has it the Aberdeen Elections Board did not certify Johnson’s campaign information. As such he can not be a candidate for city council in the Nov. 6 municipal election. I understand he may yet file an injuction and fight the ruling. Stay tuned.
Bruce Garner (for council):
I apologize, but all I know about Mr. Garner is that he owns Bayside Homes on Route 40 and once addressed the city council in February of 2006 with concerns about how a proposed ordinance to require sprinklers within single-family residences could hurt “the industry.”
Alfred Bell (for council):
I know even less about Mr. Bell. In fact, the only fact I know about Mr. Bell is that he has an Aberdeen address, but I guess that counts for something in this thick field of candidates.