Harford Votes

Mayor loses heated race

Mudslinging marked Aberdeen election

November 07, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare and Madison Park | Mary Gail Hare and Madison Park,Sun reporters

Harford votes An antagonistic campaign in Aberdeen climaxed last night with challenger Michael E. Bennett defeating Mayor S. Fred Simmons, ending a productive but contentious two-year term for the insurance salesman.

Bennett, a retired state police trooper, captured 1,362 votes to Simmons' 932, while 19-year-old college student Nicole V. Burlew finished third with 185 votes, according to figures released by city officials last night.

A citizens group that first squared off against Simmons last year in an annexation battle and then set about campaigning against the mayor figured largely in Bennett's victory.

"That is what did it," Bennett said last night of the group, called Aberdeen Communities Together. "Without their support, it would've been a dogfight. We worked our behinds off."

Incumbents on the City Council in the town of 15,000 fared better, with three of four being re-elected.

Meanwhile in Bel Air, a quieter and friendlier campaign ended with voters returning Terence O. Hanley to the Board of Town Commissioners, and electing Robert J. Reier, who had been appointed last year to fill a vacancy, as well as newcomer Edward Hopkins III to the five-member board.

Hanley, who as the board's chairman holds the unofficial title of mayor, captured 616 votes, followed by Hopkins with 529, and Reier's 359.

In Aberdeen, the weeks leading up to the election were marked by negative campaigning that included claims of damaged and stolen campaign signs, anonymous mailings carrying incendiary messages about candidates, and signs inscribed with insults that were driven around the city in truck beds.

"It's too bad there had to be so much mud flying around," Ruth Ann Young, the lone newcomer to win election to the council.

Some voters said they were able to ignore the glut of negative mailings.

"We throw it in the trash anyway," Jerry Graham said as he came to the Aberdeen Senior Center to cast his ballot. "Once you've see one, you've seen them all."

Much of the campaign vitriol was focused on Simmons, who, since taking office in 2005, rubbed some citizens the wrong way with his brash style. Many citizens, including members of ACT, frequently attended council meetings and excoriated Simmons for his practice of carrying a gun and for presiding over an increase in the property tax.

"My name recognition is 100 percent; my likability is in question," Simmons said yesterday, standing on the steps of City Hall.

However, Simmons oversaw a balancing of the budget, initiated a desalinization project aimed at boosting the city's water supply, and took a tough stance on crime, frequently strolling rough areas of the community. But some voters said Simmons' often abrasive style was too much.

"I just want to see change in the city," said Raheem Wilson, 21, who voted in his first municipal election. "There's so much police force that it's narrowed down to profiling."

Bennett said he and his supporters sensed an opening.

"Early on in the campaign, we saw in the way things were going, there was a an overwhelming response," he said late last night. "[The voters] wanted change. It kept building and I knew change was in the wind."

After the totals were announced, a subdued Simmons reflected on this two years in office.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said. "The [balanced] budget, the [fiscal] health of the city, all those things are true now."

In Bel Air, the county seat that is home to about 10,000 residents, three generations of Hanley's family campaigned for him as he sought a second term. Hanley had gathered his several hundred yard signs about 6 a.m. and replanted them near Town Hall on Hickory Avenue, the only polling place.

"A few people called to tell me someone had stolen my signs," he said, adding he assured the callers the signs were being put to good use. "I think I have the most signs on both sides of the road."

Barbara Dewey told Hanley she had voted for him and made one demand.

"When you win, you have to clean the litter from the streets," she said.

Hanley was so busy campaigning that he almost forgot to vote, casting his ballot about 10 minutes before the polls closed.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com madison.park@baltsun.com

Election results

ABERDEEN

Mayor

Michael E. Bennett 1,362

Nicole V. Burlew 185

S. Fred Simmons* 932

City Council (The top four vote-getters will serve two-year terms on the council that includes four members plus the mayor)

Ruth Elliott* 1,521

Ronald Kupferman* 1,158

Ruth Ann Young 997

Michael G. Hiob* 942

Bernard DeWitt 890

Richard R. Denu Jr. 856

Bruce E. Garner 727

David A. Yensan* 697

Janice E.M. Grant 432

Alfred E. Bell Jr. 337

Turnout: 2,503 (31 percent of the electorate)

Absentees: 68[*Denotes incumbent]

BEL AIR

Board of Town Commissioners (The top three vote-getters will serve serve four-year terms on the five-member board)

Terence O. Hanley* 616

Edward Hopkins III 529

Robert J. Reier* 359

Patrick T. Richards 272

Richard R. Davis 266

James M. Decker 237

John W. Janowich 136

Turnout: 913 (15 percent of the electorate)[Eight provisional and five absentee ballots remain to be counted today]

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