Aberdeen City Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck spoke at length at Monday's council meeting about how dismayed she was by the actions of Patrick McGrady, the challenger to Mayor Mike Bennett who Bennett narrowly defeated during the recent city election.
Landbeck began her speech with the disclaimer that she has been a registered Republican for most of her voting life and then took McGrady to task for making the election highly partisan and mean-spirited.
She quoted President George Washington's farewell address, which discusses how political parties can be destructive when elections take on the conditions of war and present the atmosphere of an "apocalyptic emergency."
"I believe that's what we tasted in our last election, and I believe we are still seeing that," Landbeck said.
She called McGrady a "most opaque candidate" who disregarded election protocol and had a hidden agenda, saying that he failed to sign his campaign materials, "hijacked" the council's public comment period and created a partisan campaign in Aberdeen.
"That has never been in the history of the campaign of Aberdeen. It has been nonpartisan," she said.
McGrady, a Republican and a member of the county Republican Central Committee, lost the mayoral election to Bennett, a Democrat, by just 25 votes out of more than 1,500 cast on Nov. 8. The city election ballots do not list any political party affiliations for candidates; however, there have been many past occasions when candidates for mayor and city council have touted their party memberships.
Though the narrow margin of victory by the two-term, 63-year-old mayor surprised a lot of people in the city, the 25-year-old McGrady ran an aggressive campaign over the Internet and attacked Bennett's record on a number of fronts, including his management of city finances.
McGrady's campaign got some wind behind it following an October trip Bennett made to Georgia to lobby for a government financed stadium there on behalf of Aberdeen based Ripken Baseball, the tenant in Aberdeen's city-owned Ripken Stadium, which has been a drain on city finances. McGrady filed a complaint with the city's Ethics Commission about the trip, and the commission ruled just days before the election that Bennett had not properly disclosed the trip but also said it did not believe the violation was intentional.
Monday evening, Landbeck said McGrady had maligned the council's membership in the Maryland Municipal League only because it did not suit his ideology for a conservative party and had collected signatures against the state's proposal of tuition breaks for illegal immigrants only so he could get a database of people's contact information to distribute his own campaign information and to solicit funds. Bennett is serving as the municipal league's president.
She said she realized the council has a duty to inform its residents and provide better information about what the city does, "so you can not be misled by what I would call hollow threats."
She said the vision of government trying to serve the public has been hijacked by "the extreme right, who say the government is the source of all the nation's problems."
"That was what I felt, even though I ran unopposed," she said. "I always felt like I was the enemy."
Although the mayor's race this year was contested, none of the four city council members had an opponent in their bids for new terms.
Landbeck said the council's agenda will never be so important that it overshadows serving the residents.
Councilman Bruce Garner said he applauded Landbeck for the courage she showed, and Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young agreed the campaign got out of hand.
"I would like to think that this can be a beginning for Aberdeen where we can think of things more in the sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor, recognizing the strengths of different people in the community, recognizing where a helping hand is needed," Young said. "'Me first, do everything my way'… I don't see that as a helpful and neighborly attitude."
"I realize we all can get down in the dumps sometimes, but it's when we begin to think not of ourselves but of others [that] a true sense of community can come about," she continued. "I see the opportunity for a much more positive outcome for all of us."
In an e-mailed response Tuesday, McGrady, who did not attend the city council meeting Monday, said Landbeck's statements were themselves partisan.
"The politically-charged statements that Councilwoman Landbeck made at the public meeting on Monday speaks to why people are turned off by politics," McGrady wrote. "Instead of pointing out any facts or pointing forward to reducing our water bills and property taxes, the Councilwoman hurled attacks at my candidacy, at my character, and at my motives. Shame on the Council to resort to half-truths and baseless attacks."
McGrady said his campaign ended with a 25-vote loss and spoke truth to power.
"Our campaign was honest, hard-fought, and while we did not win, it was successful," he wrote. "The people of Aberdeen are sick and tired of ever increasing taxes and reckless spending at City Hall… My campaign was truthful, and sometimes the truth is tough to swallow."
He said whether the council and mayor liked what he said is irrelevant.
"When there is a problem and wrongdoing, it needs to be addressed and corrected for the sake of the people who live here," McGrady said. "Making decisions about government based on personal relationships among politicians can lead to disastrous results and this is what we are seeing in Aberdeen."