BERLIN – Worcester County Commissioner Louise L. Gulyas (R) got a chance to face challenger Ellie Diegelmann (D) last Thursday in a question-and-answer forum.
The Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce hosted an election candidate forum where representatives from three of the seven commissioner districts were in attendance. But the only district to have both an incumbent and opponent at the forum was District 7, which encompasses Ocean City.
The forum, which concentrated on the topics of trade and tourism, gave each candidate the opportunity to issue brief opening remarks, answer two questions and then wrap up with a closing statement. Both Gulyas and Diegelmann stressed the importance of business and the need to bring more jobs and buyers into the area in their openings.
“Consumerism is the biggest connection with tourism,” said Diegelmann, summarizing her remarks. Her focus on consumers and their importance to the economy remained her main point throughout the forum.
Gulyas outlined her post-election strategy in her opening.
“I have a great love affair with Ocean City,” said Gulyas. “We need more better jobs. We need to continue with Blue Ribbon schools and to support Wor-Wic.”
Gulyas also mentioned eliminating the manufacturing tax in an effort to lighten the notoriously inhospitable business climate in Maryland.
After opening remarks, candidates were asked what they would do to introduce more jobs to Worcester County.
Gulyas first reminded the forum of previous work she has done to increase business growth in her area.
“Five years ago, I built a business center and now it’s full of small businesses,” she said.
Drawing on this previous experience, Gulyas expressed the belief that another such development would benefit the area.
“We need a business park in the northern end of the county,” said Gulyas, who was first elected in 1998. “I would like to see a step tax introduced to new businesses.”
Under Gulyas’ plan, the tax would encourage new business to come to the county by not charging full taxes the first year; instead, it would start low and build in annual increments.
“We as Worcester Countians need to be more business friendly,” said Gulyas. “Let Maryland go their own way … we’ve got to make severe changes. If nothing happens, things will become stagnant and we’ll die.”
Diegelmann reinforced her view that the area needs to be concerned about becoming more buyer friendly.
“The consumer dictates if jobs do or do not exist,” she said. “In the short term, we need to make sure that existing jobs stay with legal citizens, not illegal immigrants.”
The final question posed concerned tourism and what each candidate would do to bring more to the county.
Diegelmann believed that infighting and arguing over budgets were the first issues that needed to be addressed.
“Understandably, everyone is trying to grab every dollar,” she said. “There’s a severe lack of trust.”
Her proposed solution would be to foster cooperation between all involved with tourism.
“We need to heighten awareness through town hall type meetings,” said Diegelmann.
Gulyas strengthen her argument by again listing past experience in the field.
“I was president of commerce way back when,” she began. “The biggest thing (towards supporting tourism) was that I started Winterfest of Lights.”
After listing her record, Gulyas proposed what she thought would be a useful policy to improve the tourist trade.
“One penny of the room tax in the county should go back to [Tourism Director] Lisa Challenger,” Gulyas proposed.
Each candidate was then allowed to give a brief closing statement.
Gulyas expressed dissatisfaction with only discussing two topics in the questions section.
“We’re not going to talk about health care?” asked Gulyas.
Time was too short for another round of questions however, so Gulyas made sure to at least touch upon the issue in her closing.
“We have great hospitals,” she began. “They’re greatly needed; we have good doctors and nursing staff.”
Gulyas ended by expressing her desire to speak openly on all of her policies with the public.
“If you have a question call and I’ll call back,” she said.
Diegelmann concentrated on her ability to bring a fresh perspective as a commissioner.
“I look forward to the opportunity to collaborate…to get more dollars in here,” she stated. “We need to talk with each other instead of at each other. It doesn’t help successful businesses to have unsuccessful businesses fail.”
Tuesday’s election is a rematch for Gulyas and Diegelmann. In 2006, Gulyas won 63 percent of the vote, receiving 1,680 votes while Diegelmann earned 971.