Two New Faces Guaranteed On Worcester Commission

SNOW HILL — At least two seats will be open to newcomers for the 2014 Worcester County Commission election, and the incumbent commissioners planning to seek re-election expect a high number of challengers to step up to the plate.
So far Commissioners Merrill Lockfaw, Jim Bunting and Commission President Bud Church have officially filed for re-election. This week, Commissioner Virgil Shockley confirmed that he will also be running again but hasn’t turned in all of the paperwork yet. Commissioners Judy Boggs and Louise Gulyas have both announced that they won’t be seeking new terms, leaving Commissioner Jim Purnell the only unknown factor.
“I haven’t made up my mind,” said Purnell on Monday.
Saying that he’ll know “in due time,” Purnell indicated that he’ll make a decision before the end of 2013.
For the commissioners that will be seeking re-election, they expect competition for their next terms.
While no one has officially filed to oppose him yet, Church said that he’s “been hearing rumors” that at least one opponent will come forward to contend for District 3.
Shockley is also expecting at least one challenger to his incumbency.
“I’ve never had a free ride. It’d be nice to have a free ride but I’ve never had one so I don’t really expect it,” he said.
Lockfaw also remains uncontested in District 1 as of this week, though Bunting will be opposed by Linda Busick, a former commissioner, in District 6. Lockfaw and Bunting both signaled earlier this fall that they would be running again, with Bunting putting in the paperwork in early December and Lockfaw all the way back in October.
The departure of Boggs and Gulyas and the uncertainty of Purnell should make for an energetic campaign season on the County Commissioner front.
“I’m going to anticipate that it’s going to be a very active year politically,” Church predicted.
Already three residents, Chip Bertino (R), Ray Unger (R) and Tom Wilson (D), have filed for Boggs’ open District 5 seat. The district includes much of Ocean Pines and is home to many retirees who led active professional lives and are community minded.
District 7, Gulyas’ current territory, includes all of Ocean City. It remains wide open at this point with no official candidates, but Church has heard of as many as seven or eight potential contenders stirring, though he only expects two or three candidates to actually file. Ocean City Councilman Joe Mitrecic has openly said he is considering a run at the seat and that was confirmed this fall when his Ocean City Council Facebook election page was changed to represent a run at the County Commission. That page’s name change was later retracted with Mitrecic saying he knew nothing about how the page’s name was altered.
Purnell’s District 2 could be more static, with Church predicting no more than one or two candidates and that’s assuming that Purnell doesn’t re-file. Purnell has been in office since 1995 and has never lost his seat amid limited competition.
With all of the coming changes, Church, elected in 2002, and Shockley, elected in 1998, agreed that the commission needs stability going forward and defended their records.
“My priorities are pretty much what they’ve always been. I’m very concerned about the education of our children, emergency services and the environmental issues and the impact it has on the county,” Church said. “Those have been my three main concerns since the first day that I ran and they’re still pretty much the major concerns for me now.”
Shockley pointed to his very vocal involvement with bringing a stop light to the troubled intersection of Route 12 and US 113 as well as his consistent support of achieving a new Snow Hill High School. All-in-all, the current commission has done pretty well, he added.
“For the county, for the most part, from the people I’ve talked to, they aren’t discontented with what the county has done,” said Shockley. “You’ll get a particular issue with people on both sides.”
No matter the ratio of new faces to old, once the dust settles after next year’s election Shockley said that the commission’s primary responsibility will be to convince residents that there is a difference between local government and the often hectic complications of state and federal leadership.
“The average person is just so fed up with everything coming out of Annapolis, everything coming out of Washington, that the last ray of hope for what they consider common sense is at the local level,” he said. “I think that’s us and I think that’s what I try to represent: a little bit of common sense.”
The primary for the 2014 election will be in June with the general election following in November.