It’s a wonderful surprise to see so much interest in Berlin’s fall election. Three council seats as well as the mayor’s post are up for grabs in the October election.
As of this week, there are three candidates for mayor (including incumbent Gee Williams), two candidates (Jay Knerr and Tony Weeg) for the at-large seat currently held by Thom Gulyas, a single candidate (Jack Orris) for the District 2 seat currently occupied by Zackery Tyndall who is running for mayor and nobody has officially signed up yet to challenge 32-year Councilman Elroy Brittingham, who typically waits until close to the filing deadline before deciding whether to run again.
Though it remains to be seen what will happen in Districts 2 and 3 at this time, it’s a welcome change to see individuals interested in serving the small community. History shows this is not typically the case for Berlin. In 2018, for example, the election in Berlin was cancelled because incumbents Thom Gulyas (at large district), Troy Purnell (District 1) and Dean Burrell (District 4) were unopposed. This was only two short years ago. For his part, Purnell has never been challenged in his district since defeating Phil Cropper and Rex Hailey for the seat in the 2008 special election, which was needed to fill the council seat held by Williams after he was elected mayor a couple months before.
Williams, who confirmed his intention to see a fourth term this week, was elected 12 years ago after serving as interim mayor for several months after then-Mayor Tom Cardinale’s death in office. In 2016, Williams cruised to victory over embattled then-Councilwoman Lisa Hall, scoring 81% of the vote. A three-way race for mayor will be interesting because it will likely only take a few hundred votes to win. In the 2016 election, Williams received 588 votes and Hall received 137. In 2012 election, Williams received 335 votes and a write-in candidate scored 122. The filing deadline is not until Sept. 4 and there could be more challengers. However, I suspect any new entries will be in the council races rather than for mayor.
The Ocean City Mayor and Council will soon review the transportation subcommittee’s recommendation to not start the Boardwalk tram this summer.
Councilman Dennis Dare viewed sidelining the tram for the remainder of the summer would be a wise move and an opportunity for the resort to “put health before wealth in everything we do as a town.” The committee agreed for the most part and the council will have the ultimate say next week most likely.
This is not a difficult decision for the council. I would suspect there’s a demand on the boards for the tram to return, but the social distancing and sanitation moves required will make it an impossible operation to run in a safe manner. Starting the tram service and requiring facial coverings would be an impossible requirement to enforce. It’s simpler to keep the tram stored, save the town some money, protect visitors and would-be drivers and not provide the opportunity this summer.
Due to the sensitivity surrounding race and police relations, the conversation this week between the Worcester County Commissioners and the law enforcement community was worthwhile.
For the most part, the conversation centered around police training and the high level of standards Maryland agencies use before putting a cop on the streets. Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy Director John Moses clearly takes pride in what his training facility is producing. He also pointed out the state has not used the “knee on the neck” restraint used in the disgusting George Floyd for 25 years.
“The whole goal, what we train at the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy, is voluntary compliance,” he said. “We’re trying to train these officers with verbal skills to get voluntary compliance. Voluntary compliance is a lot better than trying to go hands on. There’s a tremendous amount of emphasis placed on verbal skills and de-escalation techniques throughout the county.”
During the meeting, Commissioner Diana Purnell, a Black woman, made some pointed comments that struck me. I admire her for taking on a difficult subject. She asked Moses at one point if looking beyond race was part of the training for police prospects.
“I’m a woman of color and I know that I’m weaponized because of my color,” she said. “I’m out a lot by myself. I have been right out on (Route) 50 at the stoplight, young men, sometimes young women, will roll up beside you. They blow their horn, they give me the finger, they call you all kinds of names looking for a reaction.”
Moses assured Purnell at his academy prospects are taught to look beyond differences.
“We are here for one thing only,” he said. “We take an oath to serve everybody that God has placed on this earth fairly and impartially. … I can guarantee you in Worcester County that if there’s a bad cop in any of these chiefs’ ranks they’re gone in a heartbeat.”