In the interest of generating interest, Aberdeen politics becomes a snore

ElectionsPoliticsMike BennettHarford CountyPort DepositHavre de GraceMaryland General Assembly

In Aberdeen, mayors come and mayors go, just like anywhere else. This year, there's a contested race for mayor in the city that hosts the post, but it doesn't hold the promise of being a particularly interesting one.

Incumbent Mike Bennett is challenged by Patrick McGrady, who has risen to prominence in the local Tea Party related movements and who ran unsuccessfully for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2010. Bennett's previous success has come through running low key campaigns that involve a lot of door-to-door work on his part and that of his supporters. McGrady has a similarly strong campaign work ethic, which he sometimes combines with the trademark confrontational, I'm right and you're wrong, approach to politics of his kindred Tea Party and Campaign for Liberty related groups.

There may be some sparks in this race, made all the more hot because the outcome is far from guaranteed, but the overall Aberdeen election this year is apt to be a cure for insomnia, largely because the council races are all uncontested, but also because many of the more ardent of the politically-involved already have turned their attention to the 2012 national presidential campaign.

Aberdeen's combination of being overshadowed and having an underwhelming field for the voters to choose from is unfortunate. Those elected will be in office for four-year terms, which is practically a lifetime in small town politics and span that allows people to become entrenched in what is supposed to be a citizen elected official position.

The other truly unfortunate aspect of the lack of interest likely to greet Aberdeen's election this fall is the harsh reality that Aberdeen's elections were moved to November a few years back for the express purpose of generating more interest in the local races. The logic had some merit behind it: November is election season and people would be paying attention to Aberdeen same as state and national elections. There was a major flaw, however, to moving the Aberdeen vote to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, that being that Aberdeen's elections are at least nominally nonpartisan.

A fair number of federal employees are precluded from taking part in political activities for reasons of national politics, but often make up a substantial portion of the folks who would be interested in running for local office. To accommodate this substantial group of people enabling them to run for office as a means of public service, many towns and cities in Maryland — and all of them in Harford County — have nonpartisan races.

This won't work on years when there are statewide and presidential elections, as these are patently partisan affairs. To have an Aberdeen election at the same time, you'd have to set up separate voting facilities. The solution was to move the Aberdeen elections to the off-years, when no one is running for anything.

Now the Aberdeen race is even more of a lost ball in tall grass than it was two decades ago. In those days, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace had their elections on the same day in May; across the Susquehanna in Perryville and Port Deposit, voters went to the polls a week later. While the politically active weren't stirred up the way they get during a presidential or state election year, there was a critical mass of activity in a small area that kept local politics on a lot of people's minds, even if it was different brands of local politics.

In the interest of generating more interest in city politics, Aberdeen has all but ensured a future of races that continue to attract a percentage of eligible voters in the teens or worse. I hope I'm wrong about this, but, unfortunately, I don't believe I am.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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