Some thoughts on this week’s election in Ocean City:
In my 15 years in this chair, this was the ugliest election season I have ever seen in Ocean City. I may not be the longest in the tooth, but many folks I have spoken to can’t recall the level of dirty campaigning that took place from veteran elected official Jim Hall’s camp over the last month. I think it further fueled the mandate for change and the community’s desire to disband the former council majority.
The results obviously confirm the council majority of the last two years did not have the support of the majority of the community. Most voters I spoke to on Tuesday told me the goal of controlling costs was worthwhile, but they agreed it was the way in which the majority pushed things through that caused them to not vote for Jim Hall and Joe Hall, the two most veteran members of the former majority.
It was not who won that surprised me Tuesday, but it was the margin of victory. The voters sent a clear mandate — they wanted change.
Going into Tuesday, when asked my prediction, I felt Jim Hall would manage to keep his seat by virtue of the large 10-person field, which historically dilutes the votes and results in extremely tight races. My feeling was Jim Hall would manage to squeak in by virtue of that dilution and his 25 years of experience on the council and his history of easily being re-elected. The only election he has lost was back in 1998 when after knocking off incumbent Granville Trimper in the democratic primary for County Commissioner he was soundly defeated by Louise Gulyas, who still represents Ocean City in Snow Hill today.
The “new direction” team’s landslide sweep is unprecedented in recent election history in Ocean City.
In every election as far as we can research, the last-place finisher has secured more votes than the difference between the last seat holder and the individual next left out.
For example, in 2010, Charles Borchini, Jr. finished in last place with 124 votes, and Brent Ashley scored the third and final council post, unseating Joe Mitrecic by just 41 votes. Again, in 2008, Sean Rox’s 355 votes landed him in last place, while Joe Hall edged out Ashley for the fourth seat by 52 votes. In 2006, Knight won her first term, beating Joe Hall by 74 votes, while last-place finisher Nick Campagnoli earned 200 votes.
That trend did not play out this year, as the last-place finisher, Philip Sayan, received 304 votes, and Cymek took the fourth seat by 751 votes over Jim Hall. To me, that has everything to do with the robust turnout and that mandate for change. I’m certain the next election will be much tighter.
In Ocean City, the reading of the election results creates a unique political theater.
What happens is the election officials read the various machines that voters have used throughout the day to cast their ballots. Candidates and supporters stand around and wait to hear the results, and many of them are holding notebooks or clipboards with a spreadsheet to document voter tallies as they are read by machine.
The first box historically tells the story in Ocean City elections and it held true this year. According to the first machine, Dennis Dare led with 309 votes followed by Mary Knight’s 284, Joe Mitrecic’s 283 and Doug Cymek’s 267, followed by Jim Hall, Bob Baker and Joe Hall. That order held through to the end.
Knowing the trend always holds, that’s why Jim Hall and Joe Hall left early. A lot of eyebrows were raised when these guys left the convention hall early. I do think it was disrespectful to the victors, but at the same I understand they knew that room was full of people opposed to them. They surely figured they lost and there was no reason to stick around and watch the celebration.
Throughout the campaign, former City Manager Dennis Dare made it clear his candidacy was not about revenge and seeking retribution against Jim Hall and Joe Hall, who voted to dismiss him last fall. However, somewhere on Tuesday night there had to be a glass raised for just that.
By virtue of the way he was eliminated by the former council majority, Dare was thrust into the victim role. When he first announced his candidacy, I predicted he would be by far the top vote getter. While he easily cruised to his first council seat, he did not blow everyone out. In fact, there was just a 99-vote difference between he and Knight, who impressed many with her strongest showing yet in an election and earned her third term.
Mayor Rick Meehan was pumped up Tuesday night. I have never seen him display so much emotion as when the results were announced. He had a lot riding on this election and he was more concerned about the council race than his own I believe because he knew he was safe. This was a personal election for Meehan, who has said often in recent weeks the last two years have been the most difficult in his 27-year political career.
It was not a surprise that the union referendum failed by the margin it did, and I think a lot had to do with the fact many people covet government jobs.
Unlike many in the private sector, government employees have excellent benefits for them and their families, get many paid days off and generous vacation allowance and generally enjoy job security.
The voters did the right thing on this referendum and instead aimed to restore the employees’ trust by forming what is essentially a new council majority, which will almost certainly on most issues consist of Cymek, Knight, Dare, Mitrecic, Councilman Lloyd Martin and Meehan, who does not have a vote on most council decisions.