Tuesday is Election Day in Bel Air, Aberdeen

Election Day is Tuesday for residents of Bel Air and Aberdeen, where people will be voting on who will hold several key municipal offices.

In Bel Air, voters will be casting ballots for three of five candidates for town commissioner, while in Aberdeen, the only contested race is the mayor's, where incumbent Mike Bennett is being challenged by Patrick McGrady.

Usually quiet

Bel Air town elections are typically low key and produce equally low voter turnouts.

Running for three town commissioner seats in Bel Air are incumbents Terry Hanley, Eddie Hopkins and Rob Reier. Also on the ballot are Brian Gregory Adolph and Susan Burdette.

Bel Air has a five-member town commissioner board. Members serve four-year staggered terms. The other current commissioners, David Carey and Robert Preston, were elected in 2009.

This year's campaign has been energetic. All five of the candidates are fairly well known around town, and all have connections to their neighborhoods, if not to town government.

One unknown is Hanley's current legal problems. He was charged in September with theft between $1,000 and $10,000 in Cecil County in connection with a business transaction involving his former employer, a car dealership where he was a manager.

Hanley has said he is innocent and claims what he did was merely a normal business practice. His trial was scheduled last week in Cecil County District Court, but Hanley's lawyer filed a motion for a jury trial, which will likely delay the proceeding for several weeks.

Hanley has served two terms on the town board, Reier was originally appointed to a vacancy on the board and then won a seat on his own in 2007 and Hopkins is completing his first term. Adolph narrowly missed winning a seat two years ago. Though Burdette has never run for town office, her husband is a former commissioner and the family is active in the community.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, 39 N. Hickory Ave. Absentee votes will be counted at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The town has 6,173 registered voters, and 1,000 people actually voting would be considered a substantial turnout based on past town elections.

There were 871 votes cast in the 2009 town election, which produced one of the closest finishes in years. In 2007, when Hanley, Reier and Hopkins were elected to their current terms, 919 votes were cast.

Bel Air's polling place is town hall on Hickory Avenue and is open to voters can cast ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Ethics issue in Aberdeen

In Aberdeen, the mayor and all four council members elected Tuesday will be the first to serve the four-year terms.

None of the four city council incumbents – Ruth Elliott, Bruce Garner, Sandra Landbeck and Ruth Ann Young – has opposition.

The mayor's race between Bennett, a retired state trooper and state police administrator, and McGrady, who works in his family's real estate management company, has been getting more heated as the campaign moves into its final hours.

Bennett was admonished last week by the city's ethics commission over a lobbying trip he made in October on behalf of Ripken Baseball, the owner of the city's minor league baseball team. McGrady, who ran unsuccessfully in the last election for House of Delegates, has been trying to make political hay from the mayor's bad publicity.

McGrady sent out a press release last week announcing the commission's finding that Bennett failed to disclose a potential conflict in writing prior to a trip to Atlanta, Ga., to lobby for Ripken Baseball, which owns the IronBirds and is the tenant of the city-owned Ripken Stadium. Ripken also owns a team in Augusta, where it is seeking a new stadium to be built primarily by public money.

Bennett said last week he feels he did nothing wrong and plans to challenge the ethics panel's ruling which also concluded they mayor had not "willfully" violated the city ethics code. Meanwhile, McGrady has been using email and social media to spread the word about the ruling and to challenge Bennett's credibility.

Bennett was first elected mayor in 2007. He was a first-time candidate but trounced the incumbent mayor who had become unpopular after raising taxes and trying to annex a large swath of undeveloped property north of the city so it could be turned into tract housing. Two years ago, Bennett won re-election by a comfortable margin over a veteran city council member.

Aberdeen's polling place is at the Aberdeen Senior Center on Franklin Street; it is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The city has 8,725, according to the Harford County Board of Elections. That is slightly fewer than the 8,812 voters who were registered to vote during the 2009 election. Only 21 percent of all voters participated in the last city election two years ago, when all the city council seats and the mayor's office were contested.

Mayor candidates stump

Talking about the campaign last week before the ethics ruling, Bennett said he has spent weekends over the past month walking around the city and talking to voters.

"We have had a very, very positive response throughout the city," Bennett said, explaining he is "just taking care of business, as far as the city is concerned."

He said many residents joined him to help in electioneering.

"I feel very, very positive that things are looking very good," he said about his chances, but stopped short of being too secure.

"I never feel confident about an election. I am happy with the direction things are going," he said.

Late last week, McGrady said he had made some robo-calls to voters and held a town hall meeting that drew about 35 people.

"I think it was pretty positive. A lot of people asked tough questions about water bills," McGrady said. "Everything is coming together."

He said he planned to go door-to-door to make one final push Saturday.

Regarding how much support he actually has, McGrady said, "I think it's tough to feel … I think people have a good feeling for who I am at this point."

He also said he was glad to see the ethics commission's ruling. McGrady had sparked the investigation by making a formal complaint to the commission about the Georgia trip.

"I am glad that I am no longer that just a babbling person," he said, referring to an earlier comment to The Aegis by Bennett. "[The report] was meritorious all the way through."

Aegis and Record staff members Bryna Zumer and Kayla Bawroski contributed to this report.

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