Next month's city elections were a long time coming. The current mayor and council members had 14 months added to their four- and two-year terms when Laurel's election day was moved to the first November in odd-numbered years to distance the date from state and national elections.
This year, the mayoral race is a three-way contest, with two challengers facing off against a two-term incumbent. In the race for the at-large City Council seat, a seven-term council member is being challenged by a newcomer.
We are endorsing incumbents in both races: Mayor Craig Moe and City Council President Michael Leszcz.
Neither of Moe's two challengers, former Council member Michael Sarich and Laurel Ethics Commission member Valerie Cunningham, promise better leadership than what Laurel's residents have received from Moe. His administration has carried Laurel through the recent economic downturn, avoiding layoffs in the city government while expanding city services. He has the mall renovation on the right track with a well-respected developer; and now that the county has established its storm-water runoff regulations, the project can finally move forward.
Moe has the attention of county and state leaders, and much like the late Mayor Frank Casula, he knows how to pull in support from outside the city to make things happen. At least two of our local elected officials, the county executive and state senator, have endorsed Moe's re-election.
Sarich has run a campaign of bashing the mayor and council and condemning how the city has been run. He is a contrarian and was at odds with his fellow council members and the mayor during his two terms on the council from 2004-2008.
Cunningham, who declined an invitation to be interviewed by our editorial panel, needs to gain some political and management experience before she should be considered for an elected position such as mayor.
Leszcz has a depth of knowledge for how the gears turn that run the city. As an analytical thinker, Leszcz has approached city management in a calculated and careful way that has helped Laurel continue to enjoy a strong city government.
Adrian Rousseau, who is challenging Leszcz, has certainly worked tirelessly advocating for youth in Laurel through the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. Rousseau wants to bring his youth advocacy to the council and has criticized the current city administration for not financially supporting the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. But there's more to managing a city than running youth programs, and he doesn't present concrete plans to carry out this and other changes that he says are needed in the city government.
The other council seats are uncontested. The two candidates in Ward 1 (each ward has two representatives on the council) are Valerie Nicholas, who was appointed to her seat last summer when Council member Gayle Snyder retired; and H. Edward "Eddie" Ricks, who served on the council from 1980 to 1988 and chaired the ad hoc committee that proposed the election changes that take affect this year.
In Ward 2 four-term Council member Frederick Smalls and Donna Crary, who just finished her first term in office, are the candidates.
All four candidates are good choices, and their collective experience will be a valuable asset to the city.
This election premieres several new dimensions to city elections: Early voting will be offered for the first time; polling places will be located in both wards; and voters will only elect council members from their own wards (while all voters continue to elect the at-large council member and the mayor).
The success of these changes will be seen in the number of voters who turn out Nov. 1.