Election battles brew in several Carroll towns

Westminster mayor, Hampstead and Taneytown councils hotly contested

April 10, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When the residents of seven of Carroll County's eight towns go to the polls next month, they will find on their various ballots two incumbent mayors running unopposed and a third facing stiff competition for the job.

A day before tomorrow's filing deadline, one town is short a council candidate and another has a plethora of prospective council members.

"The Westminster mayoral race is really sizing up to be a big one, but we will probably have eight council candidates," said Ken Decker, Hampstead town manager. "That has got to be a record."

FOR THE RECORD - In an April 10 article in the Carroll County section on municipal elections, the location for voting in Westminster was listed incorrectly. The city has two precincts for voting May 9: Westminster Fire and Hose Co. No. 1 on John Street and the Community Center on Royer Road.
The Sun regrets the error.

The towns have elections scheduled on various dates through May 17.

In Westminster, Thomas K. Ferguson, a veteran councilman, is challenging Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff, who is seeking a second term. New Windsor Mayor Sam Pierce and Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman have no opposition.

As for issues, many in Manchester want a bypass. Union Bridge needs industry. Sykesville will continue plans for a business center.

"In general, municipal elections tend to have a relatively low turnout unless there is a hot issue or a hotly contested election," said James P. Peck, director of research and information management for the Maryland Municipal League.

"In absence of those, historically, voters tend not to turn out."

In past town elections, victors have emerged by as few as a dozen votes. In 1999, for the first time in its 155 years, New Windsor's council race ended in a tie that forced the town council to choose between two candidates and amend its charter to allow for a second vote.

In Mount Airy, the only Carroll town without an election this year, a dispute over the vote tally resulted in a court-ordered runoff for mayor three years ago. The town, which is split between Carroll and Frederick counties, holds municipal elections in even years, a departure from the other Carroll municipalities.

In Sykesville, Councilman Eugene Johnson is seeking a fifth term and is ready to square off against newcomers to town politics.

"I am fairly certain that I am the longest-sitting councilman in the county," Johnson said.

Johnson, one of the few African-Americans to hold municipal office in the county, said he had hoped to have another black person take his place but was unable to find one. He plans to accept his nomination at the Town Council meeting tomorrow - the town's deadline for candidates nominated last month to accept or reject.

"I think that it is important to have minorities on the council," Johnson said.

Mayoral and council terms are four years and are filled with many meetings, countless hours of community service and little salary.

"These can be difficult, time-consuming, at times thankless jobs," said Peck. "I guess that is why we call it public service."

Yard signs appear

Campaigning for now seems limited to yard signs proliferating throughout neighborhoods. Some candidates have said they plan to go door to door to talk issues and garner support.

Nominations have closed in four towns, but Hampstead, Union Bridge and Westminster are giving candidates until tomorrow to file. Hampstead already has six candidates for three seats and expects two more by tomorrow, Decker said. Union Bridge, Carroll's smallest town, needs another candidate. Only two have filed for the three available council seats.

"We still have a couple of days," said Union Bridge Mayor Bret D. Grossnickle. "We will find a candidate. I have faith."

If his optimism does not pan out, Grossnickle said he will be checking the town charter for what to do next.

"This has never happened to us before," he said.

Going electronic

Most towns count the votes manually and rarely know the results before midnight. Sykesville once recorded its final tally at 1:20 a.m., after several recounts. Hampstead took advantage of the county's offer of electronic machines for its election May 10.

"We are electronic," Decker said. "It has been a real pain in the neck for three election judges to count a huge box of paper ballots after a 13-hour day. It just makes sense to take advantage of this resource."

Westminster, the county's largest city, will stick with paper ballots May 9.

"We had the opportunity and we may well use it in the future, but for now everyone is comfortable with the manual machine process," said Laurell E. Taylor, Westminster city clerk.

Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.

Carroll elections in May

Hampstead: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 10 at Town Hall, 1034 S. Carroll St. Six candidates, including incumbents Wayne H. Thomas and Dwight Womer, running for three council seats. Challengers include John Ploch, Ronald J. Schroers, Bruce Steger and David Unglesbee. Filing deadline is tomorrow.

Manchester: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 17 at Town Hall, 3208 York St. Four candidates, including incumbents Dale Wilder and Stephen M. Bankert, running for three seats. Challengers are Kathleen Clagg and John Preston. Nominations are closed.

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