Aberdeen mayor-elect a contrast in style

Mild-mannered ex-state trooper to replace incumbent known for a brash approach

November 08, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

A mild-mannered former state trooper who will be the next Aberdeen mayor stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, whom he defeated in an election that city officials said drew a record voter turnout.

Michael E. Bennett, 59, secured a comfortable victory Tuesday, gaining 55 percent of the vote to 37 percent for incumbent S. Fred Simmons, who lost after serving one term.

On Monday, Bennett will be sworn in at City Hall for a two-year term to lead the growing community of 15,000 residents. After a blitz of telephone calls and interview requests and a meeting with the city manager yesterday, he said, "It's craziness. I guess I'm in for a lifestyle change."

In many ways, Bennett is the antithesis of Simmons, who was known for his brash style and hands-on approach to leading the city. Simmons, who runs a successful insurance agency, turned the often-ceremonial job of mayor into a virtual full-time position, walking city streets - including the rougher neighborhoods - and spending several hours every day at City Hall.

Bennett plans to continue in his full-time job managing the electronic and communication systems for the Maryland State Police. But he said he plans to check in at City Hall each day.

"The mayor and council provide oversight," he said. "I don't have to be there 12 hours a day. If they wanted me there 12 hours a day, it'll be a full-time position."

Bennett, a graduate of Aberdeen High School who has lived in the city for nearly five decades, attributed his victory to the voters' desire for change. He pledged to lower the city's taxes and water rates, which rose during Simmons' tenure.

"I feel very certain with the revenues coming in, if we control our budgeting very carefully, we can reduce that [property tax]," he said. "By how much, we won't know that. I feel confident we can lower that somewhat."

In recent months, Bennett began attending City Council meetings, watching the proceedings quietly and scribbling notes on a legal pad.

He said he was motivated to run because he was bothered by the way the administration handled the taxes, a defeated annexation attempt and policing.

"The way that [Simmons] was trying to be the police chief, getting into public safety, an area that he was not trained to do, that was one of the issues that bothered me greatly," said Bennett, a volunteer firefighter. "Here we have a nonprofessional trying to run a public safety agency, trying to tell them how to do their job."

During the campaign, Bennett often spoke in generalities about his plan for addressing city issues, prompting Simmons to criticize him for having "no message other than `I don't like Fred Simmons.'"

Bennett said his goals are clear: lowering taxes, providing better service to citizens and improving the city's image.

"My job is to make sure the city manager and the police chief have the resources to do their jobs and get that job done," he said.

Ruth Elliott, who was re-elected to the council and who backed Bennett during the campaign, applauded the mayor-elect's bluntness.

"He doesn't hold anything back," she said. "That's one of the big things that drew me to him. When he says something, he's going to tell you the truth, whether good, bad or indifferent."

Besides Elliott, two other City Council incumbents - Ronald Kupferman and Michael Hiob - were re-elected, along with newcomer Ruth Ann Young. The winners will serve two-year terms on the five-member council. The fifth member is the mayor.

Incumbent David Yensan came up short in the 10-candidate field.

Results will become official today after provisional ballots are counted.madison.park@baltsun.com

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