OCEAN CITY – Critics of Councilwoman Mary Knight might claim that she votes “with the boys” more often than not, but she sees herself as an independent thinker and an unfettered voice in the new Ocean City Council.
Knight knows that her position is not always a popular one, but she says it does nothing to thwart her passion or her commitment to do her part to guide Ocean City and its residents in the right direction in these tough economic times.
“The decisions that we make today are going to effect taxpayers, residents and visitors of Ocean City for years to come, so we have to remain strategic and disciplined to make the right decisions,” she said.
Knight, who is in the early stages of her second term at City Hall, has been outspoken in her belief that despite the trying economic times, Ocean City needs to continue to move forward and invest in the future, and that, according to her, is tourism.
“Tourism is our main lifeline and we need to do all we can to keep Ocean City as a top destination for people to visit. Even in these times, you need to advertise in order to stay relevant to the public, and if you look at places that did well during the last recession in the 1980s, it was the places that made it a priority to continue to advertise,” she said.
MGH Advertising unveiled the $3.04 million ad campaign for 2009, which will begin in early May and is the most that Ocean City has ever spent before in that particular expenditure category, and Knight thinks this will pay off for the town in the long run.
“MGH has done a fabulous job for us in the past, and this advertising campaign is going to be very timely. People want and need to vacation when times are tough and these ads will play to that,” Knight said. “If we at least stay current with how we fared last year, I think the campaign will be considered a success.”
In the few months since the October election that saw Knight re-elected, newcomer Doug Cymek claim a seat, and Joe Hall reclaim his after a two-year absence, the council oftentimes has been divided, passing or snubbing issues and motions by close 4-3 votes. Knight feels that despite the tough votes, and the adaptation to the new voices on the council, the proper decisions are being made for the vested interest of the town.
“It takes awhile to learn how to work together as a group, and I think that everyone is starting to understand one another’s style. We are all politicians and part of a politician’s personality is to grandstand once in awhile. We all do it, but I truly believe that everyone on the council wants the best for the town and for its people,” said Knight.
Critics of Knight have claimed that she oftentimes sides with the opinions of Mayor Rick Meehan and is part of a predictable voting block, which sees Knight, Council President Joe Mitrecic, Lloyd Martin and Doug Cymek on one side of an argument, and Joe Hall, Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas on the other. Despite the criticism, Knight calls these claims a huge myth.
“It is a huge misconception that people have of me that I always agree with the mayor,” she said. “People who know me know that I’m strategic and disciplined and rarely tactical in my decision making process. As for a voting block, I’ve never sat down with anyone before a decision is to be made and predetermined a side. My one true confidant is my husband, and he is a very good sounding board, but I have no personal agenda.”
After her October re-election, Meehan said that it was “extremely important” that Knight retained her seat on the council, and via phone interview this week, he explained his comments and his opinions of Knight’s value to the council.
“[Mary] is always prepared and well researched and is an important member of this council. She’s a good listener to the public and in listening, she gets all the information she needs to make a good decision and I think that’s a good way for government to run,” he said.
Meehan cited a recent meeting concerning the proposed $5 million upgrade to the convention center when Knight first motioned to go forward with the proposal, but recanted her motion and took it off the table as an example of Knight’s commitment to, as she puts it, “never making a decision in haste.”
Meehan also addressed any claims of an alleged voting block amongst the council, citing the most recent presidential election as an example.
“People are looking for free thinkers and differences of opinions. Great success can happen when you bring those opinions together and create a dialogue that will ensure what the right decision should be on certain issues,” Meehan said. “Just because there’s a few 4-3 votes doesn’t mean there’s a voting block. I think the people spoke in the last election that they wanted some differences of opinion in government on all levels.”
Knight said sometimes the job of being a local politician can be thankless, referring to last year’s fire department merger when she opposed Chris Larmore being named as chief, before she later helped to appoint him in a split 4-3 vote. In the end, though, Knight says that her passion for the job remains strong as ever.
“Those six weeks were very tough on my family last year [during the fire department merger], but I have a thick skin and got through it. I love this job, and it’s a joy not a chore,” said Knight. “I was an outsider when I got elected, and even though the newspapers didn’t endorse me in October, I was elected by the people and that’s all that matters. Their votes give me the energy to keep working hard for them.”