ELKTON — Controversy has created a rift in the Republican Club of Cecil County as some members are taking issue with how its new leadership was chosen.
The Republican Club of Cecil County, a long-running membership organization for area Republicans, has elected H. Bruce Leith III as its new president and Councilman Al Miller (District 3) as its new vice president last week.
Leith replaces County Executive Alan McCarthy, who held the position since 2016, and Miller follows Bob Dubuque as vice president. Virginia Sanders and Jane Hendrickson remains treasurer and secretary, respectively.
But some members, including Council Vice President Jackie Gregory (District 5) have challenged the validity of the election.
Gregory has publicly decried the process, including a decision to delay the election of officers by 11 months, as a “way for those in power to maintain their power.”
“For the average Republican out there, the name of this club means something,” Gregory told the Whig. “It’s an organization that handles money and endorsed candidates. If it’s run illegitimately, I think people should be aware. As a life-long Republican, I’m going to stand up and hold it accountable when it’s run by fraud.”
The Republican Club of Cecil County, formed in 1986, does not hold any official political or governing power, unlike the elected Cecil County Republican Committee. The club’s members are not appointed by the elected or appointed by the Maryland Republican Party.
But in a county where voters have overwhelmingly rejected Democratic candidates for local offices since 2014, the group represents a key force in lobbying for Republican candidates.
Every two years, the club hosts a candidate forum 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 from fellow Republicans. In the past, the club has also donated to local candidates.
Disputes over club elections
The Republican Club of Cecil County first advertised the election of officers in April, although club bylaws stipulate that this should have happened in January following the gubernatorial election.
Further, the club’s election was postponed to November because the meeting erupted into chaos, according to Sanders.
Other members challenged that claim, like Gregory, Daria Brown and Gaby Coutz, at the Nov. 21 meeting.
“I called for a vote in April, and you said no,” Brown told McCarthy last week. “In April, when we wanted to have an election and people were nominated from the floor, you said no.”
After leadership realized that elections had slipped by after the 2018 election, the election was scheduled for April 11, Sanders said. After notice of the April meeting, Sanders said another member was tasked with finding officer candidates, but he had not done so in advance of the meeting.
During the April 11 meeting, McCarthy had suggested to keep on the current officers, which prompted members to make nominations from the floor. Instead of voting that night, McCarthy announced that a committee would put forth candidates for a later elections.
Sanders later said that the suggestion to keep the current officers was not a power-grab, but to maintain leadership until the new guard could take over.
“The problem we had was that we didn’t have names at the time,” she said.
A nominating committee was appointed by McCarthy to find new officers, and put forward the new slate of officers. But Gregory argued that Nov. 21 was the first time members had heard of the nominating committee — although some of them had volunteered to be on it — and the nominations.
“We had several people volunteer at our last meeting when it was last decided how we want to proceed, and I had followed up with the county executive and he said he’d done nothing with that,” Gregory said at the meeting.
Sanders told the Whig that the committee had called prospective candidates to gauge interest, and created the ballot from those names. Each candidate appeared uncontested.
“We only need one candidate to do the job — and people could always write in a candidate,” Sanders said. “Remember, this is just a club. It’s a club where people come to be informed and support the Republican party. We are not trying to cheat, we’re good people.”
Officers elected unanimously, amidst outrage
Brown had called for nominations to be made on the floor, but that motion was not recognized. There was already a motion to accept the slate of candidates put forth by the committee at that time.
The slate of officers was voted unanimously by 25 votes. There are 90 members of the club, although 72 members had the right to vote. Attendance was not taken at the Nov. 21 meeting, Sanders said.
In order to vote, members have to be a registered Republican, have residence in the county, must have paid their dues to the club and have attended at least one meeting prior to the officer election.
At the Nov. 21 meeting, some members were outraged to learn that because that was their first meeting, they did not have the right to vote in the officer election.
Sanders believed at least eight people in the audience came “with the intention to cause a problem.” McCarthy called it a “set-up.”
“I think about eight or 10 people came with the intention to disrupt the meeting, because I don’t think I’ve seen them before that night,” he said.
Sanders said that the recent events was an anomaly, calling normal club meetings “calm and peaceful.”
Despite the controversy, McCarthy said that the idea that the leadership wanted to maintain control beyond term-limits is misguided.
“We have worked hard in the past few years on various fundraisers and events like the chili cook-off with limited help from others,” McCarthy said. “We’re just working to take Cecil County forward.”