Some thoughts on this week’s election:
•It’s clear Ocean City voters like new faces. Four of the last five elections in Ocean City have seen political neophytes easily win first-place honors. Though hardly an unknown name in the city after working for the town for nearly 30 years, Dennis Dare gained the most votes in his first run at elected office in 2012. Two years later, Matt James, then 21 years old, had perhaps the most impressive election debut in city history with a landslide victory, outpacing second-place finisher Wayne Hartman by 321 votes. Then it was John Gehrig’s turn to dominate in his first elected run in 2016, earning 500-plus votes over the second-place finisher, Tony DeLuca. In 2018, James again ruled the election, besting second-place finisher Mark Paddack by 600 votes, but the biggest storyline was first-time candidate Emily Nock missing a seat by just four votes. This year it was local attorney and first-time candidate Peter Buas soaring to the top of the ticket with 1,137 votes with Gehrig in second place with 1,036 votes followed by incumbent Tony DeLuca’s 919 votes and Frank Knight’s 707.
•The voter turnout was pathetic in the Ocean City election. Including absentee ballots, there were 1,528 voters in the municipal election for a turnout of 23%. With Ocean City elections, I don’t get carried away with the turnout percentage because I think the total current voter roll of 6,524 is most likely inflated inactive voters. My guess is there are hundreds of people on the voter rolls who no longer live here. Nonetheless, there is no denying the 2020 election featured severely low turnout numbers, considering 2,566 turned out in 2018 and 2,485 in 2016.
My theory for the low turnout is three-fold. First there was no contested mayor’s race, keeping interest low. Secondly, the council field was weak this year. There were two candidates who have not lived in town long and were clearly not as informed about recent history as the more seasoned residents. Finally, early voting being moved to the Ocean City’s convention center away from Gull Creek in Berlin due to COVID-19 had a major impact. Though impossible to tally at this point, it’s clear some Ocean City residents participated in early voting for presidential election the week prior and did not return on Tuesday for the municipal vote. A fourth reason could simply be it’s 2020. Everything is off this year.
•Due to him not being able to attend last night’s swearing-in ceremony for the new Ocean City Mayor and Council, Dennis Dare delivered some parting remarks at this week’s council meeting. It was a fitting opportunity for Dare to provide a prepared statement in what appears to be the last of his days at City Hall after 37 years – eight as city engineer, 21 as city manager and eight as councilman.
Dare’s two terms on the council provided a nice final chapter for his municipal career. He was elected in 2012 one year after being removed from the city manager’s position. At that time, Dare was not on the same page as the council majority that was in power at the time. It was a divisive ousting and it cost the town financially because it was poorly handled. Dare was essentially fired in a divided vote of the council, and Mayor Rick Meehan was forced into serving as acting mayor, the first of two stints for him. The electorate confirmed in 2012 it did not support the removal of Dare and the way it was handled, electing him to his first term in overwhelming fashion. Dare was emotional at times in his final address this week because he cares deeply about Ocean City. Agreeing or disagreeing with his stances over the years is one thing, but there’s no denying Ocean City has always been in his heart through his three careers with the town. He has served Ocean City well and will be missed on the council.
•Former Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes gained 75% of the vote to grab a seat on the Board of Education representing District 3 (largely West Ocean City and Berlin). With 16 years of experience as Worcester’s superintendent and 20 years previously as a teacher, coach and administrator in Harford County, Andes may well be the most qualified school board member ever.
Andes will bring valuable experience and perspective to the board because he knows everything there is to know about education and specifically the challenges facing public schools in this county. He also is familiar with current Superintendent Lou Taylor as he was the long-time principal at Stephen Decatur High School during Andes’ stint as superintendent. In an interview in 2011 near the end of his tenure as superintendent, Andes said, “As superintendent of schools, we are always faced with needs and resources that don’t match those needs. It is a challenge trying to meet all of those needs and the frustration is watching them go unmet.” Those challenges remain in 2020.
•Expanding gambling options in Maryland to include sports betting was an easy choice for Marylanders with 67% supporting a constitutional amendment to allow it. In Worcester County, 72% of voters want sports betting in Maryland (70% said yes in Wicomico). Now the challenging part takes place with the Maryland General Assembly charged with how to proceed with rolling out the licensing process. Casinos would seem to be logical sports book options, but other licenses could be granted to mobile sports betting companies as well. A nonpartisan study estimated Maryland could add $18 million to its budget if it taxed sports gambling at 20% like table games. The ballot question said the proceeds would be directed “for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.” We will see about that.