A heated dispute over proposed ordinances to regulate rental housing in the LGBT-friendly resort city of Rehoboth Beach, Del., emerged as the lead issue in the city’s Aug. 8 election in which incumbent gay City Commissioner J. Patrick Gossett beat gay challenger Richard Perry.
Gossett, a longtime Rehoboth civic activist and resident, has sided with fellow commissioners and Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper who favor more stringent regulations that they say are needed to prevent the city’s quiet residential neighborhoods from being inundated by large, newly built rental houses.
Perry, an attorney and newcomer to Rehoboth politics, was backed by a coalition of business owners and renters, including many gay residents and vacationers, who believe the Board of Commissioners crossed the line in proposing — and in some cases passing — ill-conceived regulatory measures that critics say will hurt the city in the long run.
While Perry lost his bid for one of two seats on the Commission that were up for election on Aug. 8, challenger Paul Kuhns, a former commissioner who expressed mostly the same positions as Perry on the regulatory issues, defeated incumbent Commissioner Willis Sargent, who largely held the same views as Gossett on those issues.
Sources familiar with Rehoboth politics, including Perry himself, said more voters chose Gossett mostly likely because he had greater name recognition and was viewed as more experienced and involved in local civic affairs for a longer period of time than Perry.
Perry said he believes he also lost support by what he called an unfair effort by his opponents to “mischaracterize” him as a real estate developer seeking to profit from Rehoboth’s booming rental housing market. Although he’s in the process of building a second home in Rehoboth, Perry said he is not a developer. He said his motive for opposing many of the proposed regulatory measures is to ensure that the city continues to benefit from a strong economy based on vacationers and renters.
Under the Rehoboth electoral system for the Board of Commissioners, which serves as the city’s legislative body, all seats are at-large seats. In the case of the Aug. 8 election, the highest two vote getters were declared the winners.
The final vote count released by the city’s Board of Elections showed that Kuhns came in first place with 545 votes followed by Gossett, who came in second with 521 votes. Sargent finished third with 464 votes. Perry came in fourth place with 407 votes.
“Although I lost and came in last, no one who has run for the first time has ever got as many votes as I got,” Perry told the Washington Blade on Monday. “So I think they got the message very strong on Saturday,” he said, referring to what he said was his and Kuhns’ message of opposition to over regulation.