Norris Re-Elected Mayor of Leonardtown

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (May 8, 2008)—From his office at the Three Oaks Shelter in Lexington Park, Executive Director Harry S. Lancaster leaned back in his chair on a warm Tuesday morning and smiled, relaxing as his cell phone buzzed and whirred at his hip. This was a rare moment in light of the last “furious three weeks,” in which he had enjoyed very few moments of rest. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the shelter, which provides emergency and transitional housing for men, as well as managing a 20-bed women’s shelter allied with the same program, he had spent much of his free time going door to door in Leonardtown to campaign for his bid for the mayoral election.

In that time he said he had visited nearly 700 homes within the town limits, talking with citizens about their concerns.

His reasons for running were akin to the reasons many have given for bidding for public office. “The reason I ran is because I have a sense of an underlying discord among some of the residents in town who feel disconnected from those in charge,” he explained, adding that his first priority if elected would be to open up more lines of communication between the office of the mayor and the town. His first idea for this was to move town meetings to the evenings, making them more accessible for the working public.

He said that his second priority would be to tighten up day-to-day administration processes, adding more training and opportunities for comment from government employees. He described his other priorities in terms of the concerns he had listened to while campaigning for the office, many of which were centered on rising tax rates. When speaking of elderly citizens in particular, he said “we’re turning our backs on them by pricing them out of the town they love.”

Lancaster’s other concerns included what he classified as sparse access to recreation and activities for younger people in the town. “Kids play close to home,” he said, “and they’re playing in the streets in Leonardtown.”

In Leonardtown, the polls opened at noon, and voters filed in as Ernie Bell greeted each person by their first and last names, without even having to see identification. “I’ve been doing this since 1980,” he said. “Some years we’ve had as little as 25 (voters), others we’ve had as many as 500,” Bell said, tallying the count and confirming that this year’s turnout had already far exceeded that of the 2006 election, during which sitting Mayor Harry “Chip” Norris had run unopposed.

Norris had been about town much of Tuesday, waiting for his son to get off work so that his whole family could cast their ballots at the Town Office on Courthouse Drive in Leonardtown. When asked about his concern in the wake of having what was to be only his third challenger since taking office 13 years ago, Norris said, “I think you’ve got to be concerned. You certainly can’t take anything for granted.” He seemed both humble and confident as he discussed what was looking to be a record turnout for this year’s town election. He attributed the increase in voters to growth, citing new housing developments such as Singletree, Academy Hills, and Leonardtown Landings as sources of new citizens.

Norris reflected on negative comments gleaned from the campaign trail that had fueled his interest in improving conditions in the town, but kept a comical perspective on his own role as a public servant. “Somebody told me once that if you’ve been there for 12 years and you haven’t made anyone mad, then you haven’t done anything,” he laughed.

From there Norris segued to one of his top priorities if re-elected. “I think the single biggest issue in Leonardtown, in any town, is growth,” he said. “This is not a small town anymore. It’s a bigger town with bigger issues.” He added that if re-elected, he would approach the town council about lengthening the election process to allow for more thorough discussion and debate. Other top priorities included his plans for downtown revitalization and public access to the waterfront.

When the polls closed at 7 pm, Norris prevailed, netting 190 votes to Lancaster’s 134. Dan Burris and Walter Wise were elected to the Town Council, both having run unopposed.

In the wake of what turned out to be a closer race than some may have predicted, comments by both candidates rang out as the results were tallied. When asked if he would try running again, Lancaster said “I wouldn’t close the door on running…it’s in my blood. I love politics.”

Norris’s words concerning both his job as mayor and the election conveyed a sense of delight in competition. “If it wasn’t a challenge,” he said, raising his eyebrows, “it wouldn’t be fun.”

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