Last Wednesday, Steve Johnson stood, dressed in a tan sport coat and a dress shirt, on the sidelines and watched as candidates for mayor and Aberdeen City Council passed a microphone in front of a crowd of 120 voters. This Wednesday, Johnson stopped the election.
Tossed from the ballot by Aberdeen’s Board of Elections over questions of whether he lives within city limits, Johnson won the first round in his legal quest to get back on the ballot late Wednesday afternoon when Harford County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Waldron put the election on hold until the matter can be resolved. Waldron will decide Friday on whether to rule on the injunction himself, or to let the sitting city council decide Johnson’s fate.
Wait. That sound you just heard was the needle screeching off the record. That’s right, folks, the city council, including the bloc Johnson described late Wednesday night as “The Three Amigos” could well decide the fate of a man threatening their own incumbency. Johnson’s attorney will be arguing vigorously against such a scenario Friday.
Johnson has used what can at best be described as the Art Helton method of voting in Aberdeen: he lives outside the city the majority of the time, but has a business or other property within city limits he can legally claim as a residence; he voted, unchallenged, in the last election. Helton, who supports Johnson’s candidacy, famously lives in Darlington while voting in Aberdeen.
Johnson, chair of the city’s Economic Development Commission, said Mayor S. Fred Simmons, council president Mike Hiob and councilman Dave Yensan were onto his candidacy from the start.
“After they found out I was running, they appointed two new folks to the election board,” Johnson said, noting that former council president Gina Bantum and ‘Aberdeen Happenings’ radio host Mark Schlottman were recently appointed. Johnson further alleged that the “amigos” (who stood by the Wetlands annexation proposal while it sank in flames) went to Bantum and Schlottman behind the back of the third, more experienced election board member (the esteemed Mary Law) to get his name scratched from the ballot.
So the question for the day is, should the judge or the city council decide if the kindly election board member was the only “law” around which Johnson’s “amigos” maneuvered?
UPDATE: The Aberdeen City Council is scheduled to meet this afternoon (Thursday) at 4:30 p.m. in city hall for a special session. I understand this is to be a public hearing to discuss/decide the fate of Steve Johnson’s candidacy. I’m told Johnson has been invited to participate and hear there may be a special appearance by someone from Johnson’s past. There is also speculation swirling that the election could be split – with the mayoral portion being held Nov. 6 as intended and the city council being elected at a later date, whenever Johnson’s candidacy is settled.