Election brings new faces

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006

In one of the closest races in recent memory to take place in the town of Upper Marlboro, three new commissioners were elected officially marking the end of an era dominated primarily by Helen M. Ford’s 21-year run as town commissioner and president.

John S. Keiffer, Donald L. Strine and Julian ‘‘Jay” Tucker were introduced as the winners of the 2006 Upper Marlboro elections late Tuesday night. The trio garnered 61 percent of the 143 votes cast.

During a small election night celebration, attended by the winners, their wives and a few well-wishers, Tucker – in between issuing hugs, handshakes and kisses – talked about bringing ‘‘old traditions,” back to the town, such as the now defunct Memorial Day celebration.

‘‘We feel real good about the victory and it was great to get the voters out, but now we need to do the job the citizens elected us to do,” Tucker said.

The newly elected commissioners will be sworn in on Jan. 16, to begin officially serving their two-year terms.

The incumbents –Ford, Robert D. Hopkins III and Lawrence K. Warman Jr. – decided in November not to seek re-election. Ford cited a number of health related problems for her decision not to run. Hopkins and Warman both cited their desire to spend more time with family as the primary reason for not seeking a seventh and 10th term, respectively.

A mere four percentage points separated the five candidates on the ballot and after the first 60 ballots were tallied, four of the candidates were locked in a dead heat.

Strine, who campaigned with Keiffer and Tucker, said the group ‘‘got a lot of feedback [from voters] when we were out campaigning.”

The commissioners-elect said that their first order of business would be to turn the town’s part-time police department into a full-time police force and rejuvenate Main Street – the town’s downtown district – with more restaurants and live music a possibility.

As Dan Sonnett finished casting his ballot, around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the video producer said he’s interested in the town being further developed.

‘‘The [current] commissioners have all done a good job but it’s refreshing to see other people within the town step up,” said Sonnett, 32, who moved to the town five years ago. When asked what he thought about the three long serving commissioners deciding not to seek re-election, Sonnett said, ‘‘there will probably be a renewed interest in sprucing up the town.”

For Michelle White, a 20-year resident of the town, her main goal was to elect commissioners who shared her view that, in recent years, the town has become too congested with traffic and needs to work harder to keep surrounding housing developments at bay.

‘‘Basically I’m looking for [commissioners] who are trying to [maintain] the quiet nature of the community,” said the Federal Employee, one of the last voters to cast a ballot.

As the winners huddled around trays of chocolate covered eclairs, drank beers and sipped glasses of wine, the defeated candidates, Tressa Bell-Burton and Joseph A. Hourcle, each pledged to remain actively involved in the town’s politics.

‘‘My congratulations to the winners of [Tuesday’s] election. It is my hope that they will encourage participation from citizens in all areas of the town,” read Bell-Burton’s written statement.

Hourcle, who said he declared his candidacy out of fear that no one else would come forward, said he would do everything in his power to help the newly elected commissioners.

‘‘I don’t know any of the newly elected commissioners and I don’t know what they are proposing but I will [remain] active,” Hourcle said. ‘‘And hopefully more people in the town will do the same.”

Keiffer said he’d determined weeks ago that the outcome of the election wouldn’t change the fact that he believes all five of the candidates could serve the town.

‘‘As far as I’m concerned, the five of us are going to be working together,” he said.

E-mail Lester J. Davis at ldavis@gazette.net.