Hotelier James Makes Senate Run Official

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City hotelier Michael James this week officially announced he would seek the District 38 State Senate seat in the upcoming 2010 election, ending months of speculation about his intentions.

James, managing partner of the Carousel Hotel and Resort who serves on various boards and commissions locally and across the region, made known he would seek a Maryland General Assembly seat in the 2010 election and has hinted for months he would likely run for the District 38 State Senate seat soon to be vacated by long-time Republican incumbent Lowell Stoltzfus. This week, James ended the speculation with an informal announcement he will seek the Senate seat for District 38, which includes all of Worcester and Somerset Counties and a portion of Wicomico County.

James narrowly missed election to the District 38B House of Delegates in 2006, falling to long-time incumbent Norm Conway and appointed incumbent and former Ocean City Mayor James Mathias by single-digit percentage points. When the last of the absentee ballots were counted, James trailed Conway by a mere 254 votes and Mathias by over 1,100 votes.

This time around, James has bypassed the House of Delegates seat and will attempt to gain election to the district’s state senate seat. While no other candidates have formally announced their intentions for the seat, Mathias in October all but said he would seek the District 38 Senate seat in 2010. Conway, meanwhile, will likely remain in the House, where is chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

James will attempt to draw from his vast private sector and public sector experience as he campaigns for senate seat. In addition to managing the Carousel, James serves on the Board of Directors for Atlantic General Hospital, is chairman of the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC), and serves on the Industry Advisory Board for UMES. He also served for a time as chairman of the state’s Tourism Development Board. James said this week he would draw from those practical experiences as he seeks election to the state senate.

“Experience is the central issue this time, and I’m not talking about political experience,” he said. “I’m talking about practical experience, the experience I’ve gained from the many different things I’m involved with. I’m talking about experience in running a successful business, creating jobs, solving difficult problems. It’s a critical time in the state that we have somebody with that level of experience.”

James said the road out of the state’s current economic crisis is strengthening Maryland’s private sector and moving away from the ever-growing state government its associated programs and agencies.

“I often talk how the state government overreaches, but we shouldn’t and can’t have the state do everything,” he said. “I would like to work hard trying to revive a vibrant private sector.”

When he hinted at a possible run for the Senate late last year, James commented on the importance of keeping the District 38 seat in Republican hands. Stoltzfus has held the seat for nearly two decades and Republican Lewis Riley held it for years before that. This week, James reiterated the importance of a politically diverse local and state government.

“We’ll be one step closer to single-party government in this state by losing this seat,” he said. “Maryland is dominated by Democrats, but we have to maintain some semblance of two-party government.”

However, he emphasized his desire to win the senate seat is more about conservative values than political balance. In an election year, most candidates will claim conservative values to appeal to a broad segment of the electorate, but James said this week he has been walking the walk and talking the talk long before making his election intentions known.

“It’s not so much about the party as it is conservative values,” he said. “Lowell is very conservative and we share many of the same values. If you listen to some of these folks talk, a lot of them will say they are conservative because it’s an election year. Everybody will say that this year, but I’m not an election year convert. I’m the same as I was four years ago, three years ago, two years ago.”

While it remains uncertain who James will face in the senate seat race, it appears he could be on a collision course with familiar rival Mathias if both prevail in the primaries. Mathias has confirmed his plans for a Senate run. However, James would not comment on the potential rematch.

“I would not speculate on Delegate Mathias’ intentions,” he said. “I’ll let Jim speak for himself.”

James did comment, however, on the perceived shortcomings of the state’s current elected officials.

“The one thing I’ve observed is how often our elected officials are reactive,” he said. “They need to be more proactive. Part of the state’s financial crisis is that the elected officials have too often been reactive. The same can be said about a lot of issues, like all of the sex offender bills, or slots, for example.”

James said, if elected, he would avoid engaging bitter partisan politics.

“The last thing we need is more political backbiting and turf wars,” he said. “That’s not something I’m interested in. We need less of that and more practical, hands-on, problem-solving experience.”