The Anne Arundel County Council voted unanimously late Thursday night to appoint a small-business owner and slots supporter to the council after hours of debate and divided votes.
Charles W. Ferrar will be sworn in to represent the District 6 seat on the council Monday night, and he will vote on two slots bills that have divided the council for 10 months as one of his first acts on the panel. The council made the appointment after Councilman Josh Cohen was elected Annapolis mayor. District 6 spans Annapolis and some surrounding communities.
Ferrar, who survived 17 rounds of voting in a public hearing that stretched for four hours Thursday night, told council members that he would vote for legislation allowing zoning for slots at Arundel Mills mall and another area of the county that includes Laurel Park.
"I do support slots," Ferrar said. "I will vote for both bills."
Ferrar faced off against Michael G. Miller, a real estate investor and executive at a Washington utility company.
The long voting process, in which council members Cathleen Vitale and Tricia Johnson voted consistently for Ferrar, highlighted a council divide and perhaps foreshadowed Monday night's slots vote, which has been delayed several times. Councilman Daryl Jones voted consistently for Ferrar initially before changing his vote for Miller.
Councilmen Ron Dillon and James Benoit, consistently voted for Miller until Dillon reversed his vote when it became clear that Miller would not succeed.
"This council has taken enough heat for delay," Dillon said. "We're not going to delay this doggone thing."
Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. wants to build a 4,750-machine slots parlor on a site that is now a parking lot at Arundel Mills. The state licensing commission has granted Cordish a slots license, but council members have voiced opposition because of neighborhood concerns about increased traffic and crime.
Race became a pivotal issue in the vote when Benoit suggested that Miller, who is African-American, not only had a stellar resume, but his appointment "gives us the opportunity to make this council look a bit more like the county."
That drew a rebuke from Vitale, who said Benoit's comments were "disheartening."
"I guess I have a distaste when people look at some candidate based on something other than their abilities," Vitale said.
Benoit added that "this shouldn't be a decision based on race" and that his comments referred to a "celebration of where Mr. Miller has come from."
Jones, the council's only African-American member, who had switched his support from Ferrar to Miller after Benoit's initial comments, criticized Benoit's comments after Vitale spoke.
"To try to turn it into an issue of race," Jones said, "I don't think that's appropriate."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun