POLITICAL HISTORY: St. Mary’s Sheriff Election 2002
This visit to the election year 2002 focused on the race for sheriff in both the Republican and Democratic Party primaries. The primary election in 2002 was held in September. This article appeared the week prior to the election.
St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Race Confusing and Close
By Kenneth C. Rossignol
ST. MARY’S TODAY
LEONARDTOWN — Who has the loot?
That mantra is all everyone wants to know and as deputies go about their duties around St. Mary’s over the past several months since ST. MARY’S TODAY first broke the biggest local news story of the year, news of the missing $80,000 worth of evidence stolen from the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department property storage, the impact has spread into this year’s race to determine who will be the next Sheriff.
The candidate who was most closely identified with the current Sheriff, who is responsible for safeguarding the missing loot and is currently under a pending contempt of court charge for failing to return the $80,000 in property to the man from whom it was seized, has been busy taking down special panels atop his campaign signs declaring he was “endorsed by Sheriff Voorhaar”.
Tom Sacks once had green and yellow signs all over his own blue and white signs, perhaps because he felt the Sheriff’s personal endorsement last spring was essential, due mainly to the fact that he has only lived in St. Mary’s since 1996 and most voters do not know him or have even heard of him prior to this year. Sacks is a stranger to the county, and the people are strangers to him.
Voorhaar had earlier promised he wouldn’t make an endorsement until the Fraternal Order of Police made their selection and about as soon as the ink was dry on that promise, Voorhaar broke it and endorsed Sacks, a District police officer who went out early on medical retirement and got a job working for Voorhaar as a civilian clerk doing background checks.
Sacks was hurrying around the county with his endorsement panels putting them atop his signs while news of the latest scandal to rock the agency was spreading like wildfire, causing sellouts of this humble publication as readers each week looked forward to the latest update. Meanwhile, The Washington Post finally weighed in with a repeat of this newspaper’s account of the story and The Enterprise (Emptyprize) printed a long drawn out explanation of the affair in order to attempt some rear-guard defensive action of Voorhaar, States Attorney Rick Fritz (R.) and the high ranking Voorhaar cronies in the department.
The State Prosecutor began an investigation to determine who took off with the tractor-trailer load of construction supplies, which include a jacuzzi, a refrigerator, a safe, windows, and doors while Voorhaar suspended his chief deputy, former Capt. Steve Doolan and now demoted to Lt. Steve Doolan, whose wife Nuffie is Fritz’s campaign treasurer. Doolan was sent home without his gun, his badge and his police powers suspended. Voorhaar told reporters that he had taken action because his own department investigation, which was conducted by Sgt. Terry Black, had been “stonewalled.”
What had started as a team effort by Voorhaar, Fritz, Doolan and jail commander Lt. Mike Merican, who spends as much time touring county parks with a female assistant as he does inside the jail, to elect Sacks, has instead turned into an electoral meltdown with Sacks supporters seeing the reaction to the scandal among the public and deserting the sinking Sacks ship in droves.
Republican Mickey Bailey and Democrat Dave Zylak both of whom were running lackluster campaigns seemed to gain the most from the Sacks implosion while Bailey is said to have, earlier in the year, offered to Doolan that he could keep his job if he supports Bailey. That offer is likely withdrawn as many veteran observers of the local police scene predict that Doolan will never come back to work and may end up in jail should he be found to have been involved in the hijacking of the stolen property.
The sullen and demoted Doolan’s only comments in public have been to say that he is ‘not going down alone’, not good news for Voorhaar and his cronies, who could themselves have a lot to lose should Doolan talk to the State Prosecutor about any illegal conduct of his former pals, Fritz and Voorhaar.
While Sacks has commanded the low ground in the campaign, finding his once-buoyant bubble of electoral victory popping and slowly sinking, the old work ethic of grinding out the game on the ground has been the key to the success Republican Tom Haynie has been having as he works hard at meeting voters at events all over the county, erects and in some cases, re-erects signs ripped out of the ground by a young white male, and getting out a mass mailing to GOP voters. Bailey’s success at raising his image above that of being known as the cop who drives the Mustang painted up like a police car has faltered as many voters say he is a bright fellow but too unseasoned to be able to handle the staff of deputies or to supervise them.
Democrat Dan Morris (later elected in 2010 as a Republican St. Mary’s County Commissioner) has gained ground from his position of not being known outside of the north end of the county where he has raised his family for the past 25 years, due in part to the strong support on his behalf of major factions within the Democratic Party, including Sen. Roy Dyson, former Senator and 5-term State’s Attorney Walter B. Dorsey, Del. John Bohanan, Congressman Steny Hoyer and Elliott F. “Sonny” Burch. The chief political notable backing Zylak is former Sheriff Wayne Petit, who is making a foray into the county political arena for Zylak, is marking his first such venture since 1994 when he lost a Democratic senatorial primary race to Dyson.
Zylak is an able shift commander and has done a commendable job putting together the department’s first traffic safety program which is supposed to highlight ways to improve traffic safety through increased DWI enforcement, work with the public schools to solve problems such as the flagrant passing of stopped school buses and to investigate fatal traffic accidents. Zylak’s experience in this area has added to the community in a positive way. He was assigned by Voorhaar to the post of jail commander, where he brought no experience to the job and had to serve as a detention center warden, in place of an experienced administrator who abruptly quit the post after a short stint.
Zylak’s reign at the jail brought some compliments from those who worked with him as he did on the job training as jail commander, but the assignment ended when he decided to run for election and was quickly removed from the day shift five days a week assignment and reassigned to working midnight shift on patrol in an attempt to put him at a disadvantage at campaigning.
Morris has not only had the groundswell of support coming to him from most elements of the Democratic Party, but his close relationship to Democratic States Attorney candidate Alan Cecil has had a positive effect as the men have shown that they will work together as the county’s chief law enforcement officers.
Cecil, already the Democratic Party’s unopposed nominee, has proven popular on the campaign trail since announcing his candidacy and contrasting sharply to Fritz’s dark image as Maryland’s only chief prosecutor who admitted he was guilty in a gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl in an incident which took place when he was 18; and at the present time as a mature adult, remains unrepentant and talks in unflattering terms of his victim who says she was forcibly raped, didn’t consent and is tired of being trashed by Fritz.
Cecil’s popularity has extended to Republicans who are embarrassed over Fritz being in their party which he joined in 1998 in order to avoid being routed by Dorsey again in the Democratic Primary, a race which Dorsey decided to pass on at the last moment and too late for Fritz to return to the Democratic Party. Thus, Cecil has been approached by many Republicans who not only are crossing party lines to support him but also includes many supporters of Republican Sheriff candidate Tom Haynie.
Ironically, key supporters of Morris who had encouraged their candidate to stand alone and not run with Cecil now are pushing for a closer relationship between the two now that Zylak has gained ground in recent weeks, with some Morris enthusiasts worrying that he peaked too soon.
Cecil has his eye on the target, which for him is in November and the dynamics which could have assisted in a closer Democratic team approach for the two law enforcement races will now fall by the wayside through the outcome of the primary and if both Morris and Cecil win, perhaps all the way through to the general election.
Fritz has been employing an almost childish type of strategy, perhaps as though concocted on a playground by third graders, of trying to be “best friends” with all five Sheriff candidates while devising secret political alliances through the use of old-time political operatives, who devoid of walk-around money and liquor miniatures of days of old, still talk the talk and walk the walk of electioneering of the old style.
The hardest workers in the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s race have proven to be Haynie and Morris, and for that reason, along with their effective organizing efforts and hard-working volunteers behind them, both should manage to win the votes of their respective party members on Sept. 10th.