Ireton Feels ‘Gerrymandered’ After Primary Defeat For Congress

Ireton Feels ‘Gerrymandered’ After Primary Defeat For Congress
Ireton column mug

SALISBURY — As the final numbers came in for the Democratic side of Maryland’s 1st Congressional district primary on Tuesday night, Salisbury’s former Mayor Jim Ireton says he could do nothing else but let out a slightly ironic chuckle.
“I had to laugh because it was less that I lost, and more that I was completely gerrymandered,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning.
Despite winning the Eastern Shore vote by a convincing margin, Ireton lost the primary to Harford County attorney Joe Werner by less than four percentage points and a little more than 2,000 votes.
“I will go down as the veteran politician from the shore who campaigned hard and lost to a guy who practically didn’t even leave his house the entire campaign,” said Ireton. “We outworked a lot of other politicians in the state and raised over $36,000 and came within two points of winning the most gerrymandered district in the state and arguably one of the most gerrymandered districts east of the Mississippi River.”
Still, Ireton was sure to assert that his disappointment shouldn’t be interpreted as bitterness despite coming up short in the primary and missing out on the race that he coveted against Republican incumbent in District 1, Andy Harris.
“I’m retaining and incredible sense of humor about the whole thing, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that I had to meet so many new people in and around the shore and throughout District 1,” said Ireton. “It was truly one of the best experiences of my life, and all that time in the car campaigning was well worth it, but yeah, it’s still a bummer in the end.”
A 2014 Washington Post study named Maryland and North Carolina as the two most gerrymandered states in the nation, and pointed out that “Maryland is proof that gerrymandering is not just a Republican pastime,” pointing to the fact that a Democratic majority redrew the district lines in 2012, especially making District 1 a Republican stronghold.
Congressman Harris told The Dispatch in an interview last month “The first congressional district is not a liberal district. It was drawn by the Democrats in the legislature to be a conservative district.”
Yet, it was a sheer numbers game, not liberal vs. conservative that factored largely into Ireton’s loss on Tuesday night. It’s also one that highlights the fact that while the Eastern Shore makes up a larger part of District 1, the Western Shore sections of the district has a far greater population and that helped Werner, the Harford county attorney who was raised more than a few eyebrows with several self-made, low budget videos on his Facebook wall about his campaign, to excel in his county and the portions of Baltimore and Carroll counties, as well as three shore counties close to the Bay Bridge.
“We won six counties on the Eastern Shore, but we started to lose our momentum once you hit Chestertown,” said Ireton. “The support I received in Worcester, Wicomico and Dorchester were just phenomenal. But, I wasn’t going to win up there, and he wasn’t going to win down here, so it came down to numbers.”
State Senator Jim Mathias praised Ireton’s efforts in the campaign and hopes that the loss won’t stop him from running again the future.
“Jim ran a great campaign, and I think politics is in his blood. It’s obvious he’s passionate about it,” said Mathias.
Yet, in a race between two men trying to fight for the right to unseat Congressman Andy Harris, Harris’ resounding victory over three Republican contenders (Harris took 78% of the primary vote) proves that both Werner or Ireton would have a difficult time defeating the incumbent as the vote totals for Werner and Ireton combined (55,148) pales in comparison to the 77,112 votes cast for Harris, according to the numbers tabulated from all but two of Maryland precincts.
Ireton says the hardest part of the evening was watching his early lead slowly slip away as precincts from the Western Shore started to come in.
“I think it was around 11:30 p.m. when we went from 51% to 49% of the vote and at one point the New York Times had me winning the race,” said Ireton, “but as I looked at the precincts that hadn’t come in, I realized that they were in Baltimore and Harford counties and I knew that it was done. I never anticipated that this would happen. It wasn’t even deer in the headlights, we didn’t even see the car.”
Gerrymandering, defined as the practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, has been a topic that Governor Larry Hogan has taken umbrage with since his election in 2014.
In January, Hogan introduced legislation to eliminate gerrymandering in the state, while federal lawsuits challenging Maryland’s 2012 maps are still pending in federal court.
“An overwhelming majority of Marylanders favor an independent, nonpartisan panel for redistricting over the existing biased process,” said Hogan. “For too long, fair elections and a healthy, strong, and competitive two-party system have been nearly impossible in our state. This is about recognizing a problem and choosing to do the right thing to solve it.”
Ireton, the progressive Democrat who became Salisbury’s first openly gay Mayor in 2009, says he will take Tuesday’s loss in stride and is looking forward to returning to his seat on the Salisbury City Council, and his day job as a school teacher.
He says he will continue to work hard for the Democratic party, but issued an olive branch of sorts to the state’s Republican governor.
“If [Hogan] wants someone from the other side of the aisle to join him in fighting against the issue of gerrymandering in the state of Maryland,” said Ireton with an ironic laugh. “I’m his guy.”

About The Author: Bryan Russo

Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.