Candidates lining up to replace Cohen on Arundel council

Several want Cohen's seat until next fall's elections

November 14, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Potential candidates are lining up to fill the Anne Arundel County Council seat left vacant by Josh Cohen after his victory in the Annapolis mayoral race last week.

Among the Democrats considering applying to represent Annapolis on the County Council are members of the Annapolis city council, one of Cohen's former challengers in the mayoral race and other government workers and business people, according to political insiders.

Annapolis Alderwoman Classie Hoyle, just re-elected to the council, said she's considering applying. "I'm weighing my options," said Hoyle, who ran unsuccessfully against Cohen for the seat in 2006. And William Moulden, a member of the county Board of Appeals, said he plans to apply.

Other candidates reportedly considering making a play for the seat are Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, a retired teacher, and mayoral candidate Trudy McFall, a housing executive. Neither responded to messages seeking comment. Several others were rumored to be interested, but their interest could not be confirmed.

A spokesman for former mayoral candidate Zina Pierre said she was not lobbying for the seat. Pierre won the Democratic mayoral primary but stepped down after revelations about her personal financial problems surfaced. Democrats then appointed Cohen, who recently named Pierre a co-chair of his transition team.

Voters won't have a direct say in who gets Cohen's seat. The county code dictates that the council appoint a new member in the case of a vacancy. In this case, the appointed council member will hold the seat for less than a year because County Council elections are scheduled for next fall.

Though Cohen has not yet relinquished his seat, he must do so by Dec. 7, when he is sworn in as mayor. Council Chairwoman Cathy Vitale said the council will hold interviews and vote on a new member at a public meeting Dec. 17. The new council member will be sworn in at the next meeting, Dec. 21. Applicants for the seat must be Democrats and live in the district.

The timeline leaves no room for a new member to vote on the council's two competing slots bills, meaning there is no chance to bring in a pro-slots council member to vote on them. Cohen opposes slots.

Vitale, who said she has received inquiries from two possible candidates, said she considers the appointee a place holder because of the short time - about 10 months - the new member will hold the seat. "It's very difficult," Vitale said. "You would hope to try to find an individual who is similar to the person who is holding the position, particularly because the voters don't have a chance to vote themselves."

Vitale disputed any notion that the Republican-dominated council would choose a perceived weak candidate to make the 2010 race competitive. The District 6 seat has been reliably Democratic.

"The council that appointed me - that was a Democrat council and they took the chairman of the Republican Party and made her a councilwoman," Vitale said of her appointment to the council in 2000. "They did not look for a weak link. … I would be disappointed by any colleague looking to do that."

The council's two remaining Democrats - Jamie Benoit and Daryl Jones - said they want someone who is knowledgeable and can hit the ground running.

"What I will be looking for is someone who has been involved in the district … [with] some working knowledge of county government and County Council, so there will not be a drop-off in services," Jones said.

Benoit said it's important to find someone similar to Cohen.

"I'm not looking for a place holder," Benoit said. "When I look at what the council's going to lose with Josh departing, I certainly have an interest in trying to replace him with someone who is going to speak with that voice, someone who champions the environment, someone who cares about schools."

One issue that council members will likely examine is whether to consider the extra expense for Annapolis if they choose Finlayson or Hoyle, who were just re-elected to their seats on the city council. If either is selected, the city would hold a special election - with a price tag of about $30,000 - to elect a successor.

"If any of the aldermen decide to run, I'm going to ask them very pointedly," Benoit said. "Less then one week later they've changed their mind, and they no longer want that job. If they wanted the job of county councilman, they should have run for County Council."

Dan Nataf, the director of the Center for the Study of Local Politics at Anne Arundel Community College, offered advice for the Democrats.

"You pick a solid person, and then it's a lock for the general election," Nataf said.

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