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Aberdeen mayor's race rolls toward Nov. 8

Aberdeen mayor's race rolls toward Nov. 8
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Aberdeen's two mayoral candidates in the Nov. 8 city election, challenger Patrick McGrady and incumbent Mike Bennett, don't agree on much, if anything.

McGrady, a 25 -year-old Aberdeen native, who lost a bid for the House of Delegates in 2010, has been taking shots at Bennett's management of the city, accusing the administration of high property taxes, wasteful spending and being inhospitable to business.

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More recently, McGrady asked for an ethics investigation on Oct. 14 into Bennett's trip to Augusta, Ga., on behalf of Ripken Baseball, the tenant in the city-owned Ripken Stadium, which is seeking a new ballpark for a minor league team it owns in Georgia.

He also clashed with Bennett at the Oct. 10 city council meeting, when McGrady tried to introduce himself as "running for mayor of Aberdeen."

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After Bennett, who presides at the council meetings, told him campaigning is not allowed in council chambers and asked him to sit down, McGrady replied: "I believe this is a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Bennett, who is seeking a third term in office, has meanwhile worked to showcase the city's financial record and economic accomplishments during his tenure.

He has rebuffed McGrady's challenges, calling the ethics complaint "something desperate people do" and dismissing his opponent as "babbling."

Though city elections are nonpartisan, Republican McGrady has emphasized his party affiliation throughout his campaign, even though most city voters are registered Democrats, as is Bennett.

'Protected the citizens'

Bennett, 63, first took the reins as the city's mayor in 2007, defeating incumbent Fred Simmons in a contest that, depending on whom you talk to, was either a referendum on a massive tax increase Simmons pushed through to balance the budget or his support for the annexation of the Wetlands Golf Course, the latter which was later overturned by city voters in a referendum.

Two years ago, Bennett handily defeated then-councilman Mike Hiob to win a second term.

A native of Indiana, Bennett, who has lived in Aberdeen since he was 10, retired as a lieutenant with the Maryland State Police and ultimately served the organization for 40 years.

He has a bachelor's degree in electronic engineering technology from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.

He lives on North Rogers Street, one block over from city hall, with his wife, Elaine. They have a grown daughter who lives in Tennessee.

Bennett was prominent in leading the fight against granting city tax forgiveness to the proposed Presbyterian Home of Maryland retirement community near the stadium. Failing to win approval from the Maryland General Assembly, the company pulled out of the project this spring.

Since then, Bennett has become president of the Maryland Municipal League, an organization that represents the state's municipal governments, particularly in Annapolis, where Bennett helped the group win concessions on gasoline tax sharing from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Bennett held up the city's improved fiscal condition as his major accomplishment.

"The City of Aberdeen is in very good financial shape as evidenced by our recent bond rating of AA that resulted in $1,744,898.38 of debt service savings over the next 10 years," he wrote. "The Council and I have stood up to Corporations who have tried to bully their way into tax forgiveness and at every opportunity protected the citizens of Aberdeen. We will continue to do that."

Asked about the top issues he hopes to focus on if re-elected, Bennett listed: working with the MML to restore more highway user revenue and state aid for police protection, securing a hotel tax for the county and three municipalities, revitalizing the downtown and Route 40 corridors with the help of transit-oriented development, continuing to lower the property tax to a "fair and sustainable" level, revitalizing city infrastructure, focusing on job creation with commercial, retail and residential development, creating a "green team" to help the city become more sustainable, and working on "quality of life" issues like parks, biking and walking trails and community events.

'Government…is unresponsive'

McGrady, who is single, has lived in Aberdeen all his life and has focused on helping his family work to revitalize the city.

He graduated from Aberdeen High School and earned bachelor's degrees in finance and economics from Penn State, moving back more recently to Holly Drive.

His father and grandfather built more than 700 homes between 1960 and 1980, many in the Hillcrest, Dorsey Vale and Aberdeen Hills communities, according to McGrady's campaign website.

Most recently, McGrady has been helping renovate the original Grace Methodist Church and its parsonage, at 300 and 302 West Bel Air Ave.

He also volunteers as a lacrosse coach at Aberdeen High School.

McGrady is a member of the Rotary Club of Aberdeen, Harford County Chamber of Commerce and the Route 40 Business Association.

On his website, mcgradyformayor.com, he lists smaller and transparent government, resisting mandates, lowering property taxes, boosting business and protection of property rights as some of his "principles."

"I love Aberdeen. It can be great. We have to change the way City Hall runs to get it there, though. More transparency, less bureaucracy, and better customer service are important to fixing it," he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

"After college, I moved home to help with my family's business, and I took enough credits at [Harford Community College] to be eligible to sit for [certified public accountant] exam in Maryland. I have a solid understanding about financial and accounting issues, and I want to put them to work for the City."

McGrady said he has been blessed to be in business with his family, including managing a townhouse community, without taking "a nickel of government money for rent.

"More than my opponent, I understand the pain that people are going through with the cost of a government that is unresponsive to the people," he wrote, explaining Aberdeen community members are suffering from high taxes and high water bills.

"We are geographically located in the best possible place to take advantage of all the BRAC investment, but most of the people moving to our region have bypassed Aberdeen. Why?" he wrote. "It's because of the taxes, and the perceived value. People who own their homes in Aberdeen don't understand why their taxes are 5 or 6 thousand dollars per year, with not much to show for it."

He added government red tape is keeping businesses away and real investment is being discouraged.

"The City Government needs to change the way it interacts with the public and with people who want to do business in the City," he wrote. "The people need to believe that the Mayor is on their side…Win or lose, I will be working for the people of Aberdeen."

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