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Aberdeen launches 2011 election season as McGrady says he'll challenge Bennett for mayor

As Aberdeen prepares to kick off its race for city council and mayor, the election will feature at least one newcomer and may include some familiar faces from the past.

Patrick McGrady, the Republican Central Committee member who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate last year, announced Friday he will run for mayor and try to unseat two-term incumbent mayor Mike Bennett.

He sent e-mails to supporters at noon Monday formally announcing his candidacy

McGrady launched his campaign with a news release in which says he plans to reduce red tape at City Hall, create Aberdeen jobs and fight against higher taxes.

"After long deliberation with my family, business associates and friends, I am running for mayor of our city," McGrady wrote in the release. "Aberdeen has a bright future, but we need City Hall to facilitate investment, rather than scare it away… There's no reason that our city should have budget problems and increased spending year after year."

The Aberdeen city election is Nov. 8, but candidates can begin filing next month. In addition to the mayor's office, all four seats on the City Council will be filled.

Potential challengers

McGrady said earlier this summer he was considering a run for mayor, but he also said he would consider running for a city council seat if another suitable candidate came forward to oppose Bennett.

Meanwhile, the other two candidates in the 2009 mayoral election who finished behind Bennett – former council president Mike Hiob and former state delegate Barbara Osborn Kreamer – hinted in phone interviews this week that they, too, may be open to challenging Bennett.

"I have had a lot of people ask me," Hiob said, but he added he is not prepared yet to make a statement about the possibility of running for mayor or trying to return to the council seat he gave up by challenging Bennett in 2009.

"We definitely need some fresh faces, let's put it that way," he said about the city council.

Hiob, who ran a well-financed campaign against Bennett two years ago, ultimately lost by about 250 votes.

Kreamer, who is also a former Harford County councilwoman, would likewise not rule out the possibility of another run.

She only got about 140 votes in the last election.

"I am open and interested," she said Monday, explaining it would depend on whether people want her to run.

"The last election was a fight between Mike Hiob and Mike Bennett," Kreamer said. "Every election is different."

With candidates vying for a four-year term for the first time, Kreamer said there may be more at stake for voters.

"I am very interested in the city of Aberdeen," Kreamer said, listing the city's tax rate and BRAC's impact, or lack thereof, as areas of concern. "I have environmental concerns for the town. So I am interested; I'm alert to the situation."

Incumbents hope to return

Bennett and the four council members, Sandra Landbeck, Ruth Elliott, Ruth Ann Young and Bruce Garner, have all said they plan to run again this year.

The council also kicked off the election season earlier this month by passing a housekeeping amendment to its elections regulations and announcing the election schedule during the Aug. 8 council meeting.

Landbeck got a head start on campaigning by showing up with a lock of her hair dyed bright purple at the meeting.

Lest anyone think it was in support of Ravens football, Landbeck explained with a smile, "We are gearing up for elections and purple happens to be my campaign color, so this just happens to be a preview."

Bennett said two weeks ago he hopes to return for a third term, having coasted to a fairly easy victory over Hiob and Kreamer in the 2009 election. At the time, McGrady had already gone public that he was thinking about running.

"I already said that very early on," the mayor said about his plans. "I have just been talking with friends and relatives. I just haven't really started anything."

Bennett said he will just continue doing what he has done for the past two terms.

"I think the city's very much on the right track. We have a council that talks and goes over issues. That's a dream that any mayor would like to have, is for them to talk to each other and go over potential problems and issues," he said.

Bennett noted that he has focused on meeting each council member individually each week.

"I'm a constant," he said about his role with the council. "My main focus is, while we have this opportunity with BRAC, to concentrate on commercial [space]…because they pay the bills."

Council members step up

The council members say they would welcome the opportunity to keep working with the same people.

"Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I will try to run," Young said, adding she has already picked up her candidate paperwork. "I think pretty much the folks we have in there now, I think we work reasonably well together."

Young said she thinks people like seeing elected officials who actually get along.

"We try to work out differences and what have you in a reasonably amiable way," she said. "Years ago, it seemed like there were catfights in the public eye and I don't see where it benefits anyone, whether it's on the local, state or federal level. I have had enough entertainment, quote unquote, with what's going on in the federal level."

Garner, who won his first term in 2009, agreed with that sentiment.

"We agree to disagree and try to compromise. It's all about the people, it's not about us, and I think we have done a pretty fair job with that," he said.

"I am having too much fun. I hate to not enjoy myself," he said about his first term on the council and by way of explaining his desire to continue serving. "It's been very interesting."

Garner added he has especially enjoyed working with Bennett.

"I have never worked with anyone who does as much as he does," Garner said. "I can't say enough about him. He is just a great guy to work with."

Elliott, who was first elected to the old Aberdeen Board of Commissioners in 1982 and previously served one term as the city's mayor, echoed Young's hopes for running.

"Lord willing, I am going to run," she said. "I am going to put in another term."

Elliott said she has not formally begun campaigning or anything else yet.

"Just talking to my family about it," she said, adding she thinks a lot of people in the city want her to run again.

Former council member Ron Kupferman, who lost his seat in 2009, could not be reached for comment about his possible plans for November.

Some new rules

City manager Doug Miller said the election of the mayor and four council seats will take place Nov. 8 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Aberdeen Senior Center.

The council approved an amendment specifying that candidates must physically turn in their applications to the city clerk, that a charitable or civic organization that gets surplus campaign money must be a 501c-3 corporation and that campaign signs could be posted in the city earlier than 30 days before an election but should be removed a week after the election.

It cancels out a requirement that campaign signs cannot be larger than 6 square feet, which Miller said "has been deemed unconstitutional."

He added amendments that make the code comply more with the charter, including saying a candidate must have a "domicile," not a "residence," and that the person must have lived in the city for two years before the election date, not filing date. Another amendment prohibits signs from being placed in state highway rights-of-ways.

The entire ordinance was passed unanimously by the council.

Last year, the city council also passed a charter amendment extending the length of terms for mayor and council member from two years to four years.

The mayor and all four council members elected in November will be the first to serve the four-year terms.

Miller said filing packets for candidates have been available from the city clerk since Aug. 10.

Candidates must file personally with the city clerk between Sept. 9 and Oct. 7.

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