Disqualified Aberdeen candidate drops appeal

City Council hopeful filed lawsuit after dispute over his residency

October 23, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Aberdeen's municipal election will go on as scheduled after a disqualified City Council candidate said yesterday that he has dropped his legal bid to get on the ballot.

Steven C. Johnson said he gave up his quest to run because a postponed election would be unfair to the city and the other candidates in the Nov. 6 election.

A Harford County judge issued an injunction last week and directed Johnson to pursue an appeal through the City Council, as stipulated by the city charter. City officials said the process would take several weeks to complete and likely would delay the election at least until early next year.

"I don't want to alter the natural outcome of the election," Johnson said yesterday. "Another five months would've done that for candidates who had put a lot of time and effort in and gotten to where they are today. That would not be fair for other candidates and the city."

The dispute over Johnson's residency has rocked the political scene in the city of 15,000 since the pharmacy owner sought a court order to have his name placed on the ballot.

This month, the city election board rejected Johnson's filing after concluding that he did not meet the residency requirement to run for office, noting several public records that listed a Perryman address as his primary residence. Johnson has maintained that his Aberdeen address is his primary residence.

The appeal effort would have extended the term of current council members and shortened the term of the next elected council and mayor, a fact that Johnson said weighed heavily in his decision.

"It would've given [incumbents] tremendous advantage," he said. "Anything done from here on out would've been just to get re-elected."

The news brought a rare consensus among factions in the city that often have clashed during a competitive and often bitter campaign season.

Council President Michael Hiob, who is running for re-election, said it was a "relief" that Johnson dropped the suit. "The whole thing has created massive amounts of confusion to the citizens," Hiob said. "It's unfortunate it happened, because of the confusion and it cost [the city] a lot of money with the legal fees that has accrued so far. ... When frivolous things are thrown at the city, there are ramifications for the city."

An activist group - Aberdeen Communities Together - that has been aggressively campaigning against most of the incumbents applauded Johnson's decision. The group did not support Johnson because many of its members concurred with the Board of Elections' view that he is not an Aberdeen resident.

"Mr. Johnson told us he would do nothing to delay the election," said Chuck Doty, founder of the group. "That's what we needed to hear. From our perspective, we would not like to have these incumbents have additional time for campaigning."

Johnson said he believes that he would have prevailed in the legal effort by challenging the constitutionality of the two-year residency requirement for candidates in Aberdeen elections.

"My attorney pleaded with me not to throw out the case," Johnson said. "I had to make a decision and weigh what's best for me and what's best for the city."

That perspective represents a contrast to comments Johnson made Wednesday when the prospect of a postponement surfaced. Johnson described a possible delay as "great."

"That would give me just as much of a fair opportunity to campaign as the other candidates," he said last week.

Though he bowed out of this year's election, Johnson didn't rule out running in 2009.

madison.park@baltsun.com

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