Here we are with some big choices to be made on the eve of Election Day, or should I say, ‘Elections Day,’ plural, as there is of course a second local municipal contest being held Tuesday.
So why is it that there has scarcely been mention here on The Dagger of the Town of Bel Air election also being held Nov. 6?
We’ve been pondering why the Bel Air town elections always seem quite tepid when compared to the generally heated, dirty and heavily contested municipal races in Aberdeen and Havre de Grace.
Is it because Bel Air has a non-elected-mayor form of government? Has it to do with the Town of Bel Air’s smaller population? Maybe it’s because there is less at stake in Bel Air with the county seat and surrounding areas nearly fully developed? Does it have anything to do with the proximity of the Harford County government offices literally overshadowing the efforts of the Bel Air Town Board? Maybe it’s because many of the so-called movers and shakers in the political game are more centralized and have more of a vested interest in Aberdeen?
For some answers, we turned to a pair of veteran Bel Air politicos who have each ascended to higher elected office on the county and state levels.
First, we have the views of ‘Captain’ Jim McMahan, a former Bel Air Town Commissioner who was elected last year to the Harford County Council. McMahan is a longtime Bel Air resident who also owned a business in Aberdeen for 26 years and lived in Havre de Grace for 10 years as a second home. Here is his take.
“Part of the underlying problem is the two year terms of Aberdeen officials as opposed to 4 year terms of Bel Air. Aberdeen folks have to begin running again almost as soon as they are elected. This in itself makes for a more aggressive attitude. Aggressiveness toward citizens as well as aggressive behavior toward other council people, as they view them as a threat to their position and possible reelection,” McMahan wrote in an email.
McMahan also suggests the City of Aberdeen lacks the stability found in the Town of Bel Air.
“The nature of Aberdeen as basically a transient population for years has not fostered a stability in the city. One never seemed to know who would be there tomorrow,” he wrote.
“In Aberdeen, with the aforementioned being said about transients, the population of Aberdeen has been made up of people without a history of Aberdeen and Harford County. They have “Come to roost” in Aberdeen, many of them after retirement from Military service. That in itself is a career of moves and instability which can only foster the same unrest in the population to some degree. Bel Air on the other hand was for years a town of “homegrowns” Its population was stable being made up of folks who had lived in the town for generations. That one fact is the underlying difference between the two towns. One word, Stability, over the years.”
To those Aberdonians who might be getting a little defensive about McMahan’s comments at this point, don’t worry, he’s not suggesting either municipality is superior than the other.
“Bel Air is not any better than Aberdeen or visa versa, the differences are in its history,” he wrote.
Another former Bel Air Town Commissioner, Susan McComas, left the town board when she was elected as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. She also noted a difference between the Bel Air and Aberdeen elections.
“Having been in five town elections, it was always my experience that there has always been a certain level of civility and politeness in Bel Air elections,” she wrote in an email interview.
McComas went on to suggest there has been a constant and long-standing level of professionalism within Bel Air’s town offices that may have been lacking from time to time in Aberdeen.
“I think that you need to look at the history of the two communities and that may produce the current political climate. Aberdeen has always been more flamboyant and Bel Air has always been sedate. I think that the city manager form of government with the influence of Chris Schlehr and Bill McFaul has extended a tremendous level of professionalism that has made Bel Air Commissioners very conservative and circumspect in their deliberations with Republican or Democratic,” she wrote.
Searching for another way to uncover why the Bel Air elections may be less relevant than those of Harford County’s other municipalities, I went straight to a man who seems to always have his fingers in all manner of local politics.
The New Harford Democratic Club, largely through the influence of Art Helton, has supported candidates for elected office in all three municipalities, but this year is uninvolved in the Bel Air race. The Club, of course, was recently sued for libel in defamation for its alleged activities in the December 2006 special annexation referendum election in Aberdeen
Helton is quick to point out the Club supported Aberdeen City Council President Mike Hiob in both of his previous election wins. He also brags about former Havre de Grace City Councilman Gary Wasielewski who “was our discovery from inception,” and went on to be the leading vote-getter in a pair of city elections before being defeated last spring in a run for mayor – a run he made on his own without much support from the Club and ended up losing by about 60 votes, Helton pointed out.
While he said the Club has supported such Bel Air Town Commissioners as Dave Carey, Rob Preston and McMahan in previous elections, Helton said the group is not at all involved in the current Bel Air election.
“We do encourage and attempt to promote candidates, including reaching out to get folks to run. The difference between Aberdeen and Bel Air is the ability to get folks fired up enough or outraged enough to muster the effort and interest to run. That concern never materialized in Bel Air. We also need to know enough about the candidates we support to develop support with club members. Again that never happened this time in Bel Air,” he wrote in an email.
So I guess the Bel Air elections can be heated at times and as a reminder Helton spoke about the election in which the Club was instrumental in supporting Joan Morrissey Ward to victory over Jim Decker in a race which required a run-off.
“In that race the R’s spent a lot of money and effort (including robo calls by [Bob] Ehrlich for Decker), while the club ran Joan’s campaign. The results were a lopsided victory for Joan. The greatest compliment came the night of the election when Decker asked John Haggerty and me, ‘ Did you ever consider working for a republican?’ Helton wrote.
While Helton claims the Club’s success rate in municipal elections is “over 80%,” an impressive statistic we’ll have to wait at least another day to see if it holds true, is he correct in his assertion that people in Bel Air just don’t fired up enough to have interest in the elections?
And if so, is that the mindset that helped generate the ongoing outrage swirling around the Aberdeen election?