The filing deadline for political candidates was set to expire this week but was abruptly extended to March 22. As a reminder, the gubernatorial primary election will be held June 28 (yes, the week before the Fourth of July) with the general election Nov. 8.
The summer primary date is concerning on the local front as it’s going to occur at the height of the summer season for private businesses. Turnout is always lower in primaries, but there will be weighty decisions for voters as the primary will decide the seat in some primary races because of only Republican filers.
Some early thoughts on election season as it’s presently shaping up:
- On the regional level, State Senator Mary Beth Carozza, a Republican representing District 38, will face opposition for her second term in the Senate from Salisbury Council member Michele Gregory. Carozza will not see any opposition within her own party in the primary, setting up the November matchup with Gregory unless another Democrat jumps in the race.
On the Delegate front, Republican incumbents Carl Anderton (District 38B) and Wayne Hartman (District 38C) are unopposed as of this week, while 38A Delegate Charles Otto, a Republican, faces a challenge from Todd Nock, a Democrat who serves on the Pocomoke City Council.
- Due to this being a heavily conservative area, it stands to reason most candidates who file will be Republican. In fact, just two of the 13 candidates seeking election to the Worcester County Commissioners are Democrats — incumbents Josh Nordstrom and Diana Purnell. Therefore, the summer primary in late June will be huge and decide many races. A small turnout will surely play a factor.
As of Thursday, here’s how the candidates line up for the seven open commissioner seats. District 1: Nordstrom of Pocomoke vs. Republican Caryn Abbott of Pocomoke; District 2: incumbent Purnell of Berlin unopposed; District 3: Republicans Eric Fiori and Thom Gulyas; District 4: Incumbent Republican Ted Elder vs. Republicans Jeff McMahon and Virgil Shockley, a long-time former commissioner; District 5: Incumbent Republican Chip Bertino vs. Republican Grant Helvey; District 6: Incumbent Republican Jim Bunting vs. Republican Richard Addis, Jr.; and District 7: Incumbent Republican Joe Mitrecic unopposed.
District 4 is an interesting one, as it matches Elder and Shockley for the fifth time. Elder won in 2018 by 209 votes. Mixed in with Elder and Shockley will be Jeff McMahon, who will be retiring this year after 35 years with Worcester County, most recently as chief fire marshal. A three-person race in a primary is always intriguing, especially with three well-known names vying to represent the massive western district 4, which includes Whaleyville and parts of Berlin, Newark, Snow Hill and Pocomoke bordering three counties – Sussex, Wicomico and Somerset.
- The lack of interest in incumbent Commissioner Bud Church’s West Ocean City/Berlin seat has been a major surprise. For a couple months, former Berlin Councilman Thom Gulyas was the lone filer, and it was beginning to look like Gulyas was going to be handed the seat by virtue of being unopposed as the original filing deadline neared on Feb. 22
Gulyas has benefited in the past from elected official apathy, as he was the sole candidate to run in 2014 when long-time Berlin Councilwoman Paula Lynch retired from elected office as the at-large representative. Gulyas was unopposed when he filed for re-election in 2018 before resigning his seat in 2020 due to relocation plans to South Point. Gulyas had previously lost bids for the Berlin council in 2008 and the school board in 2014.
It was nice to see a challenger for the seat when Ocean City business owner Eric Fiori filed as a Republican to set up a primary race. This district could be one of those seats decided in late June if no Democrat files. I am, hearing we will see at least one more candidate in this race.
- Barring some surprises, it looks like the courthouse races this year will be dull. Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser, Clerk of Circuit Court Susan Braniecki and Register of Wills Terri Westcott are unopposed at this time. Heiser and Westcott were elected to their first terms in 2018 while Braniecki has been in office since 2014.
- Sheriff Matt Crisafulli filed early – back on Feb. 26, 2021 – and was unopposed until last week when Jeffrey Buhrt of Stockton filed to challenge him in the Republican primary.
- It’s been interesting to observe the Worcester County Board of Education filing activity over the last month. In an unusual turn based on recent elections, three of the four non-partisan school board incumbents will face challengers. It’s been clear for months there are some change agents who want to unseat existing school board members. Todd Ferrante, who represents District 7 (Ocean City), is unopposed at this time for his second term. Incumbents facing challengers include District 1’s Bill Buchanan, who will face John J. Abbott of Pocomoke; District 4’s Bill Gordy who will compete with Jean Marie Rice of Berlin; and District 6’s Nate Passwaters (appointed after Eric Cropper’s death last year), facing Katie Ann Addis of Bishopville.