Two of the three Havre de Grace City Councilmen whose two-year terms expire this spring, Steve Gamatoria and Garrett Lyttle, will not seek re-election, which leaves the ballot thin on candidates heading into the city’s May 6 election.
As of Thursday, only two people had filed to appear on the ballot – incumbent city councilman Jim Miller and former city councilman Fred Cullum. Both are assured a return to city hall unless at least two more candidates file for office, but city officials indicated Thursday evening no one had even picked up an application for candidacy recently.
Last year, the Havre de Grace election ballot was brimming with four incumbents running for mayor, eight candidates seeking three city council seats and a question about the future of city park property.
The Havre de Grace election will be held May 6 and candidates for city council have until Tuesday, March 18 to file for office.
Lyttle and Gamatoria both made it known recently that because of personal reasons they would not be running for office again in May.
“I will not be seeking re-election to the city council. My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in October and has been undergoing treatment since then. Doris has a very positive attitude and knows she will overcome this set back in her life. Our plans after treatment are to do some traveling and spend a lot of time at our place on Chincoteague Island in Virginia,” Lyttle wrote in an email.
After meeting with Mayor Wayne Dougherty and notifying the city council and administration of his intentions, Gamatoria forwarded an email to his friends and supporters this week informing them he also would not be returning to office.
“As with everything that we do in life, it is all about timing. It is unfortunate that I cannot commit to another term [at this moment] because I really do believe that I can make a positive impact,” Gamatoria wrote.
While appearing to be a sudden decision, Gamatoria said he knew in mid-January he wasn’t going to run for re-election, but decided to keep the information for himself to maintain a “business as usual” climate in city hall.
He said those closest to him probably realized something was afoot when he had not called them to begin strategizing his latest campaign.
“Had I planned to run, I certainly would have filed the first day,” Gamatoria said.
Here is what Gamatoria wrote in his email to friends and supporters:
After careful consideration, I have decided not to seek a second term on the City Council. Over the next 9-10 months, I am unable to commit the time that I believe is necessary to make a positive contribution. It is my nature to either be “100% in” or “100% out” … and I struggle when I cannot commit fully to a cause, especially one that is so important and deserves a 100% commitment.
In retrospect, I am very grateful and humbled for the time served, and those whom I served; I am thankful for the friendships that I have developed, and am enriched with the knowledge that I have gained.
I am most proud of the two Councils in which I have served – for demonstrating the highest level of respect for each other and maintaining a sense of dignity and integrity that our constituents deserve. Together, I truly believe that we set the standard for professionalism and re-established and promoted critical thinking, and a more business-like approach at City Hall.
I can only hope that my absence is short term, and that the citizens will again afford me the opportunity to serve.
For those Havre de Grace residents who will miss Gamatoria as a councilman, know that his departure from public office appears to only be temporary.
“I have many years ahead of me and will definitely run again, but only when I know I can commit the time that [I know] is required. I will not put myself in a position, whereby I cannot dedicate the proper time and resources to become intimate with the subject matter at hand. As you know there is a great deal of back ground information that must be reviewed, investigated and understood, prior to sitting at the dais the first and third Mondays of the month. I take the job and the responsibility very serious and to offer anything less than 100% is unacceptable to me and is short-changing the voters,” he wrote in an email interview.
Cullum, who spent a dozen years on the city council before losing his seat during a failed mayoral run last year, had indicated even before he lost his bid for the mayor’s office that he would likely run for council again if unsuccessful.
“Yes, I am running for the council again. I filed to run first thing the morning of March 4,” Cullum wrote in an email.
Cullum, a 58-year-old retired Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department Battalion Chief, served six terms on the city council from 1995 through 2007. He has been an active member of the Susquehanna Hose Company for thirty-eight years and currently serves as its vice president.
“I would like to return to the Council because I believe my past twelve years of experience on the Council is needed. I also believe I still have something good to offer the citizens of our city. During my years on the Council many changes took place in the city and many issues were addressed, I believe once again that with my past experience, knowledge and background I would be an asset to the Council. Since I am now retired I would have even more time to devote to the position then before as my main goal has always been to gather as much information and detail about a subject in order to make an informed decision,” he wrote.
Cullum said over the years that he was on the city council he was able to develop a working relationship with other local elected officials as well as the state delegation and was involved at the state level with the Maryland Municipal League – having served on the MML Legislative Committee for several years as well as serving on the MML Board of Directors.
“I truly enjoyed my years on the council and look forward to returning once again,” he added.
Miller, who will be the only incumbent on the May 6 ballot, got a taste of the city council years ago when he was appointed to the position, but after being election to the position in 2006, he is hoping Havre de Grace voters will return him to office so he can finish the work he’s started.
“I’ll start with the old cliche used by everyone that runs for re-election. ‘I have a lot of projects that I have started that I would like to see completed.’ That being said, I am near the end of my first term as an elected City Councilman,” Miller wrote in an email interview.
“Having to stand for reelection every two years doesn’t give a lot of time to see a project through from conception to completion. It takes time to budget and weigh the merits of the proposal. Time to convince the rest of the council and mayor how valuable the proposal is for the good of the City. I’m more interested in projects that benefit the many, rather then the few,” he continued.
Miller is perhaps best known for being the man who nearly single-handedly brought a new bathroom to Tydings Park.
Havre de Grace had a grand vision of partnering with Harford County government to bring a million-dollar comfort station with a rooftop observation deck to the city park, but Miller, both before he was elected to office and then continuing once he was sworn in, pushed hard to abandon the idea and use the funding for multiple, less grandiose bathrooms in public parks across the city.
Those interested in joining Cullum and Miller on the May 6 election ballot to vie for the three city council seats must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least the last 10 years, a qualified voter and a resident of of Havre de Grace for at least the last two years. They must also show up at city hall with a $50 filing fee sometime before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18.