By Josh Kurtz
The Maryland Republican Party has hired a political operative to focus exclusively on this fall’s municipal elections in Annapolis and Frederick.
Gerry Wosewick, who most recently worked as finance director for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, joined the Maryland GOP as municipal political director in the spring.
Several municipalities in the state have elections this fall, but only Frederick and Annapolis have partisan races. The mayoral elections in both cities are expected to be highly competitive this year – and could help set the tone for hard-fought contests to come in 2018, both statewide and in Frederick and Anne Arundel counties.
“Municipal elections is how you get everything started,” Wosewick said. “It’s how you start the cycle and excite the base.”
In Annapolis, the GOP will be defending first-term Mayor Mike Pantelides, and trying to gain seats on the City Council, where Democrats currently have a 7-1 advantage.
In Frederick, Mayor Randy McClement (R) is seeking a third term, though he must get through a primary before he faces a potentially tough Democratic challenger. Ald. Michael O’Connor and former Mayor Jennifer Dougherty are competing in the Democratic primary. Democrats hold a 4-1 advantage on the Board of Aldermen.
Pantelides, who won by just 59 votes in 2013, said he is grateful to have the extra help from the state party. State Sen. John Astle and Annapolis restaurateur Gavin Buckley are vying for the Democratic nomination to take him on, and Pantelides predicted that if Astle is the nominee, Senate President Mike Miller (D), a longtime Astle ally, “is dumping a ton of money into the race.”
Anne Arundel and Frederick counties will be major battlegrounds in 2018 in state and local elections, so “we’ve got to make sure we win our races this year” to build momentum for those vital contests, Pantelides said.
Astle has signaled he will not seek a seventh term in the Senate if he loses the mayoral contest, and Republicans are heavily targeting his seat in 2018. The Frederick-based Senate seat of Democrat Ron Young – a former Frederick mayor – is likewise a top GOP pickup opportunity. Three Republicans are competing for the right to take him on.
Both Senate districts are anchored in the cities where mayoral races are taking place this year, where Democrats are stronger – though they both include turf outside the city limits where the GOP runs stronger.
Both parties believe the outcome of the races in Annapolis and Frederick this year could be a harbinger of things to come in competitive districts next year – just as the national political parties are hoping to gain momentum from the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia this year. Democrats are strongly favored to flip the governor’s mansion in New Jersey, while the race in Virginia is considerably closer.
Bryan Lesswing, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, seemed unimpressed by the GOP’s decision to focus on municipal races this year.
“While Maryland Republicans are just now playing catch-up, the Maryland Democratic Party has already been helping down-ballot candidates across the state since the end of last year,” Lesswing said on Thursday.
He declined to provide details on what specifically the state party is doing to aid Democrats in the Frederick and Annapolis municipal races. However, Democrats under new party chairwoman Kathleen Matthews are trying to mobilize activists in places where the party hasn’t performed so well in recent elections.
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