Chestertown Council candidate Tom Herz was with a group of supporters at the Retriever tavern on High Street when he learned that he had been elected to the Ward 2 council seat. The crowd of supporters erupted in applause when Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, after a brief tease – “Are you sure you want to hear this?” – announced the results. The crowd erupted in applause at the news that Herz had defeated two-term incumbent Councilwoman Linda Kuiper by a margin of 164 to 56, a surprisingly strong result in a race many considered a toss-up going into election day.
After learning the results, Herz thanked his opponent for “a nice clean race.” He said, “We had a conversation about ideas. It just so happened that the future prevailed and the current state lost the day.”
“It’s just amazing,” Herz said of the 35% turnout in the council-only election. He thanked his family, his campaign treasurer Liz Gross, the sign-wavers, donors, and other supporters including the Washington College Young Democratic Club and all of the voters. He ended with a thank-you to his wife Sharon for her unstinting support.
Herz then turned to one of the main themes of his campaign, using the fiber-optic network to launch Chestertown and Kent County as high-tech centers, bringing in economic expansion. “Now I’d like to give you a little bit of the good news,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard at communicating a message and vision for the future. Last weekend I brought in the Ambassador-at Large for a small West African country called The Gambia. They came here and fell in love with Chestertown, Herz said. Now, there are lots of miles to go between here and there, but they want to put data centers in Chestertown. They want to come here and buy property, and host a command post – they want to do great things. Now, we don’t know if it’s all going to happen yet…. But the future is bright. And it all begins today, and it all begins because of you.” He ended with a toast to the future of Chestertown.
In a brief interview afterward, Herz credited Kuiper with running “a great campaign, filled with ideas,” but characterized her approach as “rooted in the past. I’m ready to move the town forward.” He said he would use the time between the election and his officially joining the council at the first meeting in January to work with Mayor Chris Cerino, the other council members, and the Kent County Commissioners to explore the possibilities for his vision. He specifically promised to work with Kuiper “to make sure there’s a positive handover of all her good work,” and to make sure the needs of Ward 2 residents are met. Herz also said he would focus on bringing business to town, which he said would bring young people with families, allowing the town to grow.
He said he is currently working a 9-to-5 job in Washington, but it’s on a short-term contract. “But sometime in early January, I’ll be working remotely here in Chestertown, back to what I’ve always done for the last 20 years.” He said the job involves modernizing software for the Pension Guarantee corporation, which would help ensure that retirees get their pensions and benefits in a timely manner.
“We are hard after the future, we are hard after making our town great without changing its character – without changing the very nature of what makes it special,” he said. He identified that character as “community, and family values, and love for one’s neighbor. But we have to bring ingenuity here, we have to bring new people. And so we’re all going to have to work together to be accepting of different mindsets, to be accommodating to different lifestyles. At the same time, the people who come here will have to take a moment to breathe, to relax and understand who we are.”
On other major issues facing Chestertown, Herz in previous interviews has indicated that he is open-minded about the budget problems in the police department and the possibility of either eliminating the town police and/or merging with the county police. He has said that he can see advantages in combining at least partially with the county sheriff’s department especially on equipment and other resources but also worries about losing local control or being able to roll back things in the future if it doesn’t work out. He wants to study the situation and talk with all the involved parties before deciding on the issue. Last month the council voted to delay making a final decision on the police budget until March, thus giving both returning and any new members a longer time to study the situation.
Meghan Efland, who was elected unopposed to the Ward 4 council seat, was also present at the gathering. In a brief speech, she thanked the voters and Herz. “It’s a change in Chestertown,” she said. “I look forward for things to be growing, but in a way that we’re accepting of, that keeps the town the way we want to be. But we do need growth, and we do need to keep moving forward.” She concluded by saying she was looking forward to representing her ward on the council and to working with Herz and the current council members.
The large crowd at The Retriever included a number of current and former elected officials, including Mayor Cerino and retiring Ward 4 Councilman Marty Stetson; Galena Mayor John Carroll; former Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum; and former Chestertown Council members Liz Gross and Sam Shoge. The Kent County Democratic Club, which endorsed both winning candidates, was also represented by several club officers as well as members of the Central Committee. In between talking about politics, many of them praised the newly reopened and refurbished bar, in the same location as the former Andy’s Tavern. And it seems a good bet that those at the election party went home happy.