Ocean City mayor pick for House seat

Mathias would succeed Del. Bozman

May 24, 2006|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN REPORTER

Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. -- the face of the resort town for many beachgoers -- is hoping to give up the post he has held for a decade to become the newest member of the Maryland General Assembly.

Worcester County Democrats met Monday night and chose Mathias to serve the remaining five months of the term of the late Del. K. Bennett Bozman, who died last month, and last night leading Democrats from the other county in the district, Wicomico, unanimously concurred.

The recommendation will go to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is charged with making the appointment. It would be customary for the governor to accept the recommendation.

The new delegate would serve the remainder of Bozman's term but would have to win election in November to keep the seat when the 2007 session opens in January.

Mathias said yesterday he decided to seek the nomination after some "significant soul-searching."

"I hope I have the opportunity to build on Bennett's legacy of leadership," Mathias said. "I love public service, the people, the challenges. It's been nonstop all day, and that's typical of community politics."

Party leaders from Wicomico and Worcester said that Mathias' gregarious style and experience marketing the beach resort could prove valuable in the fall campaign, which includes formidable Republican candidates to represent the conservative Lower Eastern Shore's District 38-B.

"Obviously, we were in a position to look for someone who is electable and someone who is going to be a successful fundraiser," said Kathy Phillips, chairwoman of Worcester's Democratic Central Committee, which selected Mathias in a 5-3 vote Monday night. Wicomico's central committee members voted 9-0 for the resort mayor.

"We thought there were a number of capable people, but we wanted someone who could address our four core issues: growth, education, economic development and health care," Phillips said. "Beyond that, we thought [Mathias] was someone who can help us hold that seat."

Party officials said Bozman's widow, Betty Ann, was their first choice but that she was not interested.

Among the seven Democrats who expressed interest were Edward Lee, a longtime activist with the Worcester County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; former Ocean City council members Erin Fitzsimmons and Vince Gisriel; former Berlin Mayor Rex Hailey; and Gee Williams, a Berlin town councilman.

Republicans are counting heavily on 15-year Worcester County Councilman John "Sonny" Bloxom, a lawyer whose base of support is in rural southern Worcester. He announced his candidacy for the delegate seat in November.

Mathias, 55, is a Baltimore native who graduated from Calvert Hall College High School and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He moved to Ocean City more than 30 years ago.

He was elected to the first of five two-year terms as mayor in 1996, and has become known as a relentless civic booster who is comfortable greeting crowds of voters or visitors to Ocean City.

Each central committee must deliver a letter with the name to Ehrlich's office by Friday, and the governor is expected to make an appointment within 30 days.

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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