Election 2018: 32 races, lots of learning

Those who like to watch local politics will have a lot to look at in the next eight months as the tables are set for another election year.

In Wicomico County, thanks to the addition of a school board election, voters will be asked to vote on 32 state and local races, selected from a field that right now includes 105 total candidates.

To be an informed voter, one is going to have to do a bit of homework.

County Executive

In the race for Wicomico County Executive, three men have filed and will appear on the November ballot. Republican incumbent Bob Culver is being challenged by Democrat John William Hamilton of Salisbury. Not much is known about Hamilton, except that when he ran for County Council in 2010, he ran as a Republican and lost.

In one of those first-one-can-remember scenarios, Salisbury City Council President Jack Heath is running as a nonaffiliated Independent.

Having three candidates vying for the county’s top post is the sort of thing that will give pundits fits to determine. Heath undoubtedly wanted a clear shot a Culver – who steals votes from whom?

County Council

Two County Council veterans, John Hall of Salisbury and Matt Holloway of Hebron, are not seeking re-election. Each was a hard-working contributor to the council, each had specific areas of expertise that benefited discussion – their absences will be felt.

Hall, an advocate for small business and proponent of the county’s airport, is leaving because of health issues. Holloway, long seen as one of the county’s emerging young leaders, is leaving after eight years because of the burgeoning growth of his family agricultural business.

Only one council district seat has a single contender: Longtime Republican incumbent Joe Holloway is the lone filler in east county’s District 5.

Council At-Large

There are seven seats on the County Council, five of which are elected by districts, two elected at-large. Four people are contending for the two seats – two are Republicans and two are Democrats – so they will face off in November.

The incumbent council president, John Cannon, was a near-last-minute filer and joins Salisbury Realtor and GOP Central Committee member Julie Brewington in the Republican camp.

Former councilman Bill McCain was a true last-minute filer, and joins political and issues activist Jamaad Gould of Mardela Springs in the Democratic contenders camp.

Cannon recently expanded his family rental and property management business; he once cited his work commitments as a reason not to run for County Executive. McCain, a leading commercial real estate appraiser in the community, served a single term on the council from 2006-10.

The at-large position is especially crucial to county government, as it is the at-large members who most regularly serve as Council President, controlling the council agenda and serving as the legislative figurehead in contrast with the County Executive. Either Holloway or Cannon has held the Council Presidency for nine of the past 12 years.

District 1

County Council District 1 is the majority-minority district comprised of the west Salisbury neighborhoods extending north and west. The incumbent is Ernie Davis, a first-term member who operates a school bus business.

He is being challenged in the Democratic primary by former Salisbury City Councilwoman Shanie Shields, who was defeated for city re-election in 2016.

A third Democrat, Marvin Ames, was a late entry. He has run previously for the county seat and was also a City Council candidate in 2016.

Each candidate has a different public identity – Davis is a proponent of public education and black-owned business; Shields most often raises neighborhood concerns and family issues; Ames in previous races has insisted new blood is needed in government leadership, called for new crime strategies and has pushed for more job opportunities for young people.

There are no GOP candidates in the race, so the June 26 primary winner will likely advance directly to the seat after November.

District 2

In 2014, Republican Marc Kilmer turned questions about why the county had a gubernatorial-selected school board into a countywide issue and rode it to a Council Council seat, succeeding longtime incumbent Stevie Prettyman.

As council member, Kilmer helped lead the effort to see a school board referendum approved. He joined with Council President John Cannon to implement sweeping changes to the County Charter – many of those changes were interpreted as weakening the County Executive’s powers.

Kilmer has made county spending a top concern and is known to publicly question any expenditure he finds troubling.

Unknown to most voters himself until the last election, Kilmer faces the unknown Alexander W. Scott, a Democrat who lives in Mardela Springs.

District 2 is the largest geographically, encompassing most of western Wicomico, extending down through Nanticoke and sweeping across the river to Riverside Drive neighborhoods.

District 3

Larry W. Dodd, the Republican who serves as the County Council’s Vice President, is both a former County Council and school board member enjoying a second council stint.

The retired Salisbury City Fire Department leader is being challenged by Democrat Michelle Gregory, yet another political unknown.

District 3 is comprised of neighborhoods in Fruitland and stretches east south of Route 50 all the way through Powellville to the Worcester line.

District 4

Democrat Josh Hastings lost the District 3 race four years ago to Larry Dodd. Since then, he’s moved to Monticello Avenue in the heart of Salisbury and is seeking the seat being vacated by his Republican neighbor of three streets south, John Hall.

Hastings has deep Wicomico roots: He grew up on a Mardela Springs farm and his great-uncle was the late Salisbury Mayor Rollie Hastings.

Late Monday, the Wicomico Republican Central Committee announced it would put up Suzanah Shivery Cain as their nominee.

A Realtor who works in Ocean City, Cain lives on Loblolly Lane in Salisbury, in the shadow of Salisbury University.

District 5

Following in the philosophical footsteps of Richard Adkins, Parsonsburg Republican Joe Holloway has served three terms on the County Council and has shown a surprising desire for a fourth.

A self-avowed “common sense conservative,” Holloway often plays off of Kilmer in questioning county spending decisions. A school board skeptic, he pushed for the release of school administration spending documents concerning catering and training expenses and raised continued questions about construction of Bennett Middle School.

His District 5 is conservative and rural, extending from Delmar east across the top of the county through Parsonsburg, Pittsville and Willards.

State’s Attorney

For 24 years, one man served continually as Wicomico State’s Attorney, Democrat Davis Ruark. Since November 2011, however, three people have occupied that important post on either an elected or an interim basis.

The latest in that line, Republican and former Ruark team member Jamie Dykes, appeared to be cruising to election in November. Appointed to the position by a panel of judges last summer, Dykes brings deep law enforcement connections and experience to the job.

Then on Monday, the Democrat who defeated Ruark in a 2010 primary, W. Seth Mitchell, declared his candidacy. In beating Ruark and then losing to Matt Maciarello eight years ago, Mitchell was an aggressive campaigner who drew attention to the race.

Clerk of the Circuit Court

Since 1926, only five men have served as Clerk of the Circuit Court for Wicomico County. Only two men have served in the last 52 years – A. James Smith and his chosen successor, Mark Bowen.

If one is elected County Clerk, it could be said, it is a job to be held for life.

Bowen has had the position since 1987 and stunned the community when he announced his retirement decision last year. Not even age 60 yet, Bowen could – if he wanted – probably go on winning the job for another 20 years.

His exit has generated a lot of candidate interest, including from former Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton, who briefly entered the contest but withdrew this winter.

Two Republicans and one Democrat are in the battle. Democrat James “Bo” McAllister, a Salisbury lawyer with strong legal community ties, has no primary opponents.

Two Republicans, Shawn A. Bradley and Christopher S. Welch, will face off in June.

Bradley, the local Republican Club president, is a first-time contender for higher office. Welch at this point remains a political unknown.

So what does the Clerk of the Court do? The clerk’s office and staff process civil, criminal and juvenile actions. Bowen’s photo is often in the newspaper when he administers oaths of office to officials, but his office also issues business and marriage licenses and he performs civil marriage ceremonies.

Register of Wills

The Register of Wills Office is primarily responsible for appointing personal representatives to administer decedents’ estates, collecting inheritance taxes and running the Orphans Court, and Democrat Karen A. Lemon has been in the seat since 1994. Before her election, she worked in the Wills office for 20-plus year, ensuring she is the all-time expert in the post.

No Republican has challenged her in years; the same is true this year.

County Sheriff

Perhaps the most popularly elected leader in Wicomico County’s history, Lewis has not faced a challenge since he ran for the seat when it was being vacated by R. Hunter Nelms back in 2006.

In three sessions before voters, Republican Lewis has racked up overwhelming numbers. His job success, name recognition and popular community involvement mean he could compete for any elected post on the Lower Shore and probably win.

No one has stepped forward to challenge the sheriff in 2018.

Board of Education

For the first time in its history, Wicomico voters will popularly choose their school board members. Seven seats are up for grabs, with the districts mirroring the County Council map.

Despite concerns that not enough people might step forward to run, there are 14 people seeking posts.

The school board elections are nonpartisan. Like the County Council, two people will be elected to represent the entirety of Wicomico with five chosen in districts.

School Board At-Large

Four people are vying for two seats. Newcomers Tyrone Cooper and Talana D. Watson are challenging two currently serving members, Don L. Fitzgerald, who happens to serve as the board’s president and Michael G. Murray, who was recently appointed to the board by County Council members.

Murray is a 1976 graduate of Wicomico High School who went on to a teaching career in Delmar before serving as a principal in the Delaware school system.

Fitzgerald is a 1964 Wi-Hi graduate who worked at the DuPont Co.’s Seaford plant for many years. He was first appointed to the school board in 2009.

Watson is well known in the Salisbury community for her work in First Baptist Church and the Lewis N. Watson Funeral Home. She is married to the Rev. Lewis N. Watson and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with a Management Concentration from Salisbury University.

Cooper is a business owner and minister who serves as a firefighter and EMT. He applied in the group from which Murray was previously selected.

District 1

There are three candidates for one seat in this minority-majority district. Newcomers Ruth Angelot and Michelle Bradley are tangling with the recently appointed Allen C. Brown.

Bradley is a Hebron mother of two. Brown is well known in the community, having served as an educator and high-ranking administrator in the Wicomico school system for more than 40 years.

District 2

Salisbury banker and longtime sports coach Gene Malone was appointed to the board two years ago by Gov. Larry Hogan. He is unchallenged in the District 2 race.

District 3

William Turner is the school board’s current District 3 member who was appointed along with Murray and Brown. The current CEO of Lower Shore Enterprises, his grown children attended Wicomico schools and his wife is a teacher there.

David L. Goslee Sr. of Powellville, retired after a career in law enforcement, has said school safety is a top concern.

District 4

This seat had no filers until the 11th hour, when David Plotts, Seamus Benn and Ann Brittingham Suthowski each decided to run.

A lifelong Salisbury resident, Suthowski has sought elected offices in the past, primarily on the County Council.

Benn is a political unknown.

Plotts, the Controller for the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, is the son of former Salisbury City Engineer Tom Plotts. He is a lifelong Salisburian with children in the school system as well as a wife who is a teacher.

District 5

Long one of the school system’s harshest critics, engineer John Palmer was appointed to the school board by Gov. Hogan in 2015 and has become one of Wicomico schools’ biggest cheerleaders.

Employed at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Palmer has become the board’s enthusiastic point man on the Choices Academy, which is being established in a new building in Salisbury.

He is unchallenged.

Maryland Senate

District 37

When a personal conduct scandal crippled longtime state Sen. Richard Colburn four years ago, then-Delegate Addie Eckardt of Cambridge jumped in to oppose her fellow Republican and quickly won a seat in the General Assembly’s upper chamber.

Last go-around, Eckardt defeated lawyer Chris Robinson, a Cambridge Democrat. This year’s race could prove more interesting as Eckardt will face a person who is surprisingly similar in age and outlook.

While Eckardt has devoted her career to health care employment and is an expert in those issues, so is St. Michaels Democrat Holly Wright, who has worked most of her lifetime in the public healthcare sector.

District 38

A Democrat navigating in a sea of registered Republicans, Jim Mathias has won three razor-thin elections, one for the House of Delegates and two for the state Senate.

In November, he will face off against Republican Mary Beth Carozza, a single-term House member known for working harder than anyone else in the Eastern Shore delegation.

Mathias, himself an exceptional worker, summoned political magic to best some rather flawed challengers; Carozza has no such flaws. Her state, local and federal connections, track record and her enviably close ties with Gov. Larry Hogan make her among the strongest candidates for any Senate seat in Maryland.

Mathias has access to top state Democrats – and it is the Democrats who control the legislature, after all – and he has used those ties to the district’s advantage.

This will be a closely watched, big-money, high-stakes contest, one that promises to pit friends against each other, especially in Ocean City and Northern Worcester County where both figures are community leaders.

State House Republicans are counting on Carozza’s and a few other GOP Senate victories to make Hogan’s vetoes of troublesome Democratic legislation unstoppable. State House Democrats need Mathias to maintain veto resiliency, but also because his skills and energy have propelled him higher in party hierarchy, where he has been assigned many leadership tasks.

The District 38 Senate race promises to be the grandest and most interesting election in decades.

District 37A

Former Wicomico County Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Democrat, assumed this seat from Rudy Cane in 2015. The district is a majority-minority collective, extending from west Salisbury into Hurlock and neighborhoods of Cambridge.

Each of the challengers is from Dorchester County and carries considerable political weight.

Sample-Hughes’ primary opponent is the Rev. Charles Cephas Sr., the Hurlock Town Council President. The winner of that June vote will face Cambridge City Councilman Frank E. Cooke, a Republican, in November.

District 37B (2 seats)

It’s pretty confusing living just west of the Wicomico River or just south of Salisbury and having people who live in Easton, Cambridge or St. Michaels represent you in Annapolis. Until Salisbury’s Chris Adams broke that trend four years ago, rather alien representation had been the norm for much of Wicomico.

Adams, a Republican and Salisbury businessman, is seeking re-election, as is Republican incumbent Johnny Mautz, a St. Michaels restaurant owner and waterman.

Two GOP challengers have entered the contest, Mimi Gedamu, the personable and community-known owner of Pemberton Coffee House in Salisbury, and Keith Graffius of Taylors Island, himself a restaurant owner in Cambridge.

Adams, Mautz and Graffius are each young, smart and aggressive and will compete had for the two available nominations.

There’s only one Democrat in the race, Dan O’Hare, a Realtor who lives along the Wicomico County south of Salisbury.

District 38B

Delmar Mayor Carl Anderton Jr. produced one of the biggest moments of political upheaval in local history when he knocked off eight-term incumbent Norman Conway almost four years ago.

The result wasn’t as much an upset as it was a transformational moment — it was popularly agreed that Conway had lost a step performance-wise and redistricting adjustments had eroded his voting base.

Still, a veteran of Conway’s rank – the Democrat was the all-powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee – being replaced by a delegate so green in the ways of state government was pretty stunning.

Anderton has done a good job of not pretending to know more than he does, and it seems to have endeared him to his Annapolis colleagues and his Wicomico constituents.

That – and 38B’s right leaning voter rolls – contributed to his being unopposed.

District 38C

No Democrats filed for this seat, so unless the Central Committees intervene the June Republican primary winner will be the next delegate representing Ocean City, Ocean Pines – and Willards, Wango and Pittsville in Wicomico County.

Four men have filed for the seat currently occupied by Mary Beth Carozza. Only one currently holds a political office, Wayne A. Hartman, who serves on the Town Council. The other contenders are Joe Schanno, a special assistant to the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Jim Shaffer of Berlin and Ed Tinus of Willards, who supports ” Telephone Town Hall Representation” to allow constituents to immediately weigh in on all legislative matters.

Wicomico Judges of the Circuit Court

Two years ago, voters were thrown into a bit of confusion when M.J. Caldwell challenged newly appointed Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sarbanes at the ballot box. State law requires sitting judges to face the voters every 10 years or in the first election following their appointment.

Though Sarbanes defeated Caldwell, the voters seemed to like the drama of a wild-card entry.

In this election, longtime Judge Kathleen L. Beckstead was facing her 10-year ballot encounter, while recently appointed Judge Matthew A. Maciarello faces his inaugural ballot review.

Since filing, Beckstead and Maciarello had been running as a ticket and had been appearing more than usual at public events. The lack of an outside challenger, however, ensures their safe return to the Circuit bench.

(Omitted from this story are the Orphans Court races and Party Central Committees competitions. They will be included in a separate, future story.)

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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