Three candidates to skip GOP club forum in protest | Local News

ELKTON — Three county council candidates plan to protest the Republican Club of Cecil County forum scheduled for Thursday night by not participating, citing “a huge potential for bias and favoritism.”

The Republican Club of Cecil County is a long-running membership organization for local Republicans. Its members are not elected or appointed by the Maryland Republican Party nor does the organization hold any political power, like the elected Cecil County Republican Central Committee.

The club does, however, serve a purpose in lobbying the support of registered Republicans ahead of primary elections. Every two years the club holds a public candidate forum — this year scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cecil County Administration Building, located at 200 Chesapeake Blvd. in Elkton — with dues-paying members casting votes for the club’s endorsement. Candidates often tout the club’s endorsement to voters as a mark of approval by fellow Republicans.

This year, however, new controversy is rankling the proceedings.

Candidates Ed Larsen, Thomas Wilson and Richard Lewandowski announced late last week that they will not be participating in any event organized by the Republican Club of Cecil County. Interestingly enough, that decision was announced by the Cecil County Republican Club — a rival organization started in 2016 by Vince Sammons, a conservative activist from Rising Sun.

Sammons was once a leading member of the Republican Club of Cecil County and helped organize President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in Cecil County. He quit the club after witnessing what he said was a behind-the-scenes agenda to promote certain candidates, starting his rival club in protest.

Sammons noted that neither the Maryland Republican Party nor the local central committees offer endorsements before a primary election, but endorsements by the private club often “give the public the false impression that certain candidates are endorsed over others by the Republican Party.”

“Many people have expressed concerns that these debates are merely used to prop up pre-selected candidates who will then use the club’s endorsement on campaign materials to gain an advantage over ‘outsider’ candidates,” Sammons wrote in a press release announcing the intentions of those protesting.

Specifically, Sammons expressed concern that the Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government (CBL) political action committee (PAC), a powerful lobbying group that has successfully backed nine consecutive Republican campaigns in the last three elections, has already announced its endorsement of Bill Coutz in District 2, Al Miller in District 3 and incumbent George Patchell in District 4. Furthermore, Sammons cited the fact that County Executive Alan McCarthy, who received the CBL’s endorsement in 2016 and 2012, would preside over the forum as president of the Republican Club of Cecil County as more evidence of the deck being stacked against “outsider” candidates.

“This concern is magnified by the fact that every Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government PAC endorsed candidate in recent years has been declared a winner in the Republican Club’s debates,” he wrote.

Although he also has not received the CBL’s endorsement, incumbent Councilman Dan Schneckenburger, who has been a member of the club for roughly eight years, said he plans on participating in Thursday’s forum.

“I am trying to get as many supporters who are club members as I can to come out,” he said. “I totally believe that the leaders of the club will try to (endorse CBL candidates). It is, after all, Alan McCarthy’s club.”

While he was shunned by the CBL this year after earning its endorsement in 2014, Schneckenburger said he isn’t discouraged and is hoping that at worst the club issues no endorsement at all in his district.

“I think the other candidates didn’t feel they were going to get a fair shake on the deal, and I understand their position,” he said. “But I’m absolutely not going to hide away. I’m the incumbent and I will do my best.”

On Tuesday, McCarthy said he was “really quite disappointed” that Wilson, Larsen and Lewandowski wouldn’t be participating in the forum.

“They say they’re Republicans, so come and tell the people your message,” he said. “They have everything to gain and nothing to lose, as I see it.”

Despite the claims by those protesting, McCarthy said the notion that the CBL decides the club’s endorsements is misguided.

“To be frank, I don’t know that there are even a half dozen CBL members who are actively involved in the club. None of the club’s leadership is affiliated with CBL,” he noted.

Thursday’s forum will be conducted in a panel format, wherein each candidate will be asked to respond to a series of questions from a moderator, who will assemble queries posed by the listening audience. Additionally, each candidate will have the opportunity to make an opening and closing statement.