Richards, Chmielewski win election in Bel Air

Incumbent Commissioner Patrick Richards won re-election, and newcomer Amy Chmielewski won her first election to the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners Tuesday, based on unofficial results.

Richards and Chmielewski were part of a four-person field of candidates running for two seats. The other two candidates were Christopher Jordan and Michael Kutcher, who, like Chmielewski, had not run for elected office before.

Richards said “you’re never quite sure how it’s going to shake out” in an election with four candidates.

“I’m very happy with the results and happy with the way we tried to reach out to voters,” he said.

Chmielewski will take over the seat of veteran Commissioner Robert Preston, who had announced he would not seek re-election after 15 years on the town board.

“I’m very excited,” Chmielewski said Wednesday.

Richards, who was elected to his first term in 2013, was the top vote-getter with 262 votes, followed by Chmielewski with 158 votes. Kutcher and Jordan had 119 and 115 votes, respectively, according to the unofficial totals.

Richards characterized his second term as “really a continuation of a lot of the priorities we’ve already set” on the town board.

He said those priorities include economic development, smart growth with more infill development on land within the town limits, completing the connection of the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, sustainability “and all the other great initiatives that are already well under way.”

“I certainly would want to continue to support those efforts,” Richards said.

Chmielewski said she wants to work to bring more small businesses and young families to town and improve the visibility of crosswalks for pedestrians and drivers.

“I would like to work on just the economic vitality of the town,” she said.

Michael Krantz, the Bel Air town clerk and director of administration and human resources, read the results Tuesday night at the Bel Air Town Hall, about 10 minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. and the ballots were counted.

He stressed Tuesday’s results are unofficial, and absentee and provisional ballots will be counted during a canvass at 10 a.m. Thursday at town hall.

Voters cast 370 paper ballots at the polls Tuesday, and there are 13 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots, according to data provided by Krantz.

There are more than 7.400 eligible voters in the Town of Bel Air. Less than 500 people voted in the last election two years ago, where three commissioners’ seats were open.

Even fewer votes were cast this year — 376 ballots were cast on Election Day in 2015, and there were 413 total ballots cast, including absentee and provisional, according to Krantz’ data.

Richards said he spoke with a few voters on his way to work Tuesday morning.

“I think it’s a good turnout, perhaps not what we were all collectively hoping for with such a large population here in town,” he said. “We’d always like to see a bigger turnout.”

Richards said the rainy weather Tuesday afternoon could have affected the turnout.

Chmielewski said she met with voters Tuesday evening.

“I think the weather definitely deterred people from going out — that cold rain was awful,” she said.

Richards expressed a “huge thank you to everybody that did come out and support and cast their vote.”

The last two voters, Matt and Morgan Michael, arrived about five minutes before the polls closed.

They said later that they both voted for Richards, the incumbent, but they declined to say who else they voted for.

“I’m happy with the town is right now,” Morgan Michael said. “There's really nothing to dislike about our little town.”

Her husband added that “we love how the town is being run.”

He cited general satisfaction with the town, plus the fact that municipal race happened in an off-year — races for governor, the state legislature, Congress, county executive and others will happen next year — as factors affecting the turnout.

Matt Michael said he and his wife voted because of “civic duty.”

“Our kids know where we went, so it's setting a good example,” Morgan Michael said.

The Bel Air elections are non-partisan, as candidates do not identify with a political party on the ballot.

The other three sitting incumbents include Commissioners Brendan Hopkins and Phil Einhorn, who were elected to their first four-year terms in 2015, and Commissioner Susan Burdette. Their terms end in 2019.

Hopkins, who visited Town Hall to hear the results, said he spoke with each candidate and thanked them for running. He praised their “dedication” for standing out in the rain to greet voters as they went to the polls.

“I think they all stepped up to the plate, and it was nice to have a contested election,” he said.

Hopkins said he is “looking forward to working with everyone and continuing to do great things for the town.”

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