Gay businessman Tom McGlone lost his bid to become mayor of the resort city of Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Saturday, finishing behind seven-term incumbent Mayor Sam Cooper by a vote of 665 to 483.
Gay restaurant owner Mark Hunker won his bid for a seat on the Rehoboth City Commission, the town’s legislative body. His election leaves two open gays on the six-member commission. Commissioner Pat Colluzzi, a lesbian, was not up for re-election this year.
McGlone’s status as an openly gay candidate did not emerge as an issue in a town that has long been a popular vacation destination for LGBT people in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Washington and Baltimore.
But he did emerge as an advocate for the town’s tourist oriented businesses, including bars and restaurants, which have complained that the Cooper-led town government was harming them through overly restrictive regulations.
Among McGlone’s supporters were the owners of the popular gay restaurant and bar Aqua Grill. One of its two owners was arrested last year for allegedly keeping the establishment’s outdoor patio open beyond a required 11 p.m. closing time.
Police later dropped the charge after discovering that Aqua Grill was exempt from the closing time restriction. Aqua Grill’s owners and customers, however, became outraged earlier this year when a town code enforcement officer informed the place that it was in violation of another ordinance for flying a flag over the sidewalk in front of the restaurant two inches lower that the code requirement.
Rehoboth gay activist Peter Schott said he’s concerned that Cooper’s re-election will be viewed as a signal for continuing a regulatory enforcement program that some view as targeting gay establishments.
Cooper has strongly disputed claims that the enforcement action was targeting any particular group or type of business. He said the enforcement effort targeted everyone found to be in violation of the town’s rules and laws pertaining to excessive noise or other ‘quality of life’ issues such as trash disposal.
In a phone interview with the Blade last month, Cooper said he welcomes the town’s diverse array of residents and visitors, including LGBT people. He said he was proud to have helped to build and maintain a town infrastructure that has resulted in a beautiful beach and boardwalk that attracts everyone to Rehoboth Beach.
Observers familiar with Rehoboth said Cooper appears to have succeeded in portraying McGlone as someone who lacked sufficient experience to become mayor because he never served in an elective post in the town or on a town board or committee.
McGlone argued that his experience as the owner of a successful financial planning business, a masters in business administration degree, and his commitment to improving the town’s relations with small businesses, among other skills, made him qualified for the job.
His supporters say he was well qualified to be mayor but note that the majority of the town’s voters consist of longtime residents and homeowners who tend to support Cooper and agree with Cooper’s position on regulating bars and other nightlife businesses. Although McGlone had the support of some longtime residents, observers say his base of support came largely from the growing but minority faction of voters who own homes in the town but don’t live there full-time. This group is eligible to vote under the Rehoboth election law, even though most live in D.C., Baltimore and other areas outside Delaware. They don’t turn out to vote as often as the permanent, full-time residents, according to observers familiar with the town.
“Well obviously I’m disappointed,” McGlone said after the election results were announced. “But I think that as a result of my running we lifted the bar. And I hope the current government has their ears open in terms of the issues that came up during the course of the campaign because I think those are still valid issues even though I didn’t get elected.”
Schott, who supported McGlone even though he lives just outside the Rehoboth town limits, said he and other McGlone backers were hopeful that a larger than usual turnout of voters, including new residents who tend to support entertainment businesses, would carry McGlone to victory.
But the results indicate that didn’t happen. The turnout of 1,148 people who voted for mayor in the Saturday, Aug. 13, election was slightly less than the 1,209 ballots cast for mayor in the August 2008 election. In that election, Cooper defeated challenger Paul Kuhns by a margin of 675 to 534 votes.