OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Council this week voted to disqualify relative newcomer William J. Steiner, Jr. as a candidate in the upcoming municipal election citing his apparent failure to register to vote in the city prior to the filing deadline, but the Anne Arundel County strip club owner believes there is a more sinister reason for his disqualification and is appealing to the state’s Board of Elections to get back on the ballot.
Last week, Steiner joined the field of eight candidates for four available Ocean City Council seats. This week, however, four of the town’s council members voted to disqualify Steiner as a candidate because Worcester County Board of Elections records show he did not register to vote locally until Sept. 24, or the day after the filing deadline for City Council candidates.
His apparent failure to register to vote prior to the filing deadline is reason enough to disqualify Steiner as a candidate, according to the letter of the law. However, Steiner explained he registered to vote here over a year earlier when he officially changed his address on his driver’s license with the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and that he was under the impression the entire time he was registered to vote in Ocean City.
In fact, he driver’s license shows he made the address change as early as August 2007, although it remains uncertain if he registered to vote in Ocean City at the same time. Steiner claims he did and that there must have been a glitch in transmitting his voter registration from the MVA to the county’s Board of Elections.
“I thought all along I was registered to vote in Ocean City,” he said. “My wife and I went down and did it. Hers was accepted and mine was rejected. Somewhere along the line, my paperwork got lost.”
However, City Clerk Carol Jacobs told the council on Tuesday she was told by the county elections board Steiner was registered to vote in Anne Arundel County. She added Steiner was not on the universal voter rolls for Worcester County and that the local elections board told her he did not register to vote in Ocean City until Sept. 24.
There was also some discussion about Steiner’s principal place of residence. Tax records show he lists his address at 1209 Atlantic Ave. in Ocean City as his principal residence, but similar records show he still lists an address in Linthicum Heights in Anne Arundel County has his principal address. However, City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the council had to look no further than the missed voter registration deadline as a reason for disqualifying Steiner as a candidate.
“We can debate forever where he is a resident,” he said. “But the fact is, he didn’t file to register to vote until after the deadline.”
Steiner appeared to have at least one sympathetic ear on the council. Councilwoman Margaret Pillas suggested there could have been a clerical error or a glitch in the paperwork that caused Steiner’s voter registration to not appear until the day after the filing deadline.
“If he registered and the records didn’t catch up in the time frame, then maybe we need to take a closer look at this,” she said.
Ayres, however, reminded the council whatever happened or didn’t happen with Steiner’s voter registration was immaterial because the records show he did not make the deadline.
“No matter what excuse he might give, no matter what his good intentions are, he simply didn’t register to vote before the deadline,” he said. “Whether a mistake was made or there was not a mistake made, the rules weren’t followed.”
With that, four council members including Nancy Howard, Joe Mitrecic, Pillas and Lloyd Martin, voted to disqualify Steiner as a candidate. The other three council members, including Jay Hancock, Jim Hall and Mary Knight, abstained from the vote citing a conflict of interest because they have each filed for re-election.
Steiner abruptly left the meeting following the vote, but said later in the week he was not ready to let it go without a fight. He said yesterday he was contacting the Maryland Board of Elections to see if he had any recourse through an appeals process.
“I was ready to accept it until I thought about it some more,” he said. “This is a simple clerical error that can be cleared up, but they didn’t want to hear anything about that.”
Steiner also suggested there was something deeper behind his disqualification related to his ownership of a strip club in Anne Arundel County. Steiner continues to own a strip club in Anne Arundel County called McDoogal’s just south of Baltimore and is currently in the process of appealing a court decision in Caroline County barring him from opening McDoogal’s East along a rural highway near Denton.
“Clearly, there was another reason for it,” he said. “They just didn’t want me in. They were looking for a way to keep me out of there and this is what they came up with.”
Steiner said his colorful past, and not the simple glitch in his voter registration process, was the reason the council barred him from participating as a candidate in the election.
“They didn’t want me in because of their concerns about my strip clubs, or adult entertainment clubs,” he said. “Those clubs are perfectly legal. It’s not like I’m trying to put one in Ocean City. Anywhere I’ve ever opened one, I’ve asked the people if they want it. If they don’t, I won’t even pursue it.”
Meanwhile, Ayres took the abstaining council members to task somewhat for not participating in the disqualification vote, pointing out if it were a different year and four seats were open, or if another incumbent was seeking re-election, they wouldn’t have a quorum.
“The charter of the town says it is your responsibility to approve a list of candidates for election,” he said. “I understand why some of you abstained, but there is a potential problem. If you have an election with four seats open and you abstain, you wouldn’t be able to vote on an approved list of candidates.”
Ayres acknowledged the appearance of a conflict for the incumbent candidates, but told the council approving the list one of their important functions.
“There are certain things you have to do,” he said. “You can take this conflict thing to the extreme. Following the same reasoning, you could abstain from voting on the tax rate because it would affect you as a property owner.”