August 13, 2017 at 12:47 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kuhns beats Cooper in Rehoboth mayor’s race

Rehoboth mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

Incumbent Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper on Aug. 12, 2017, lost to Paul Kuhns. (Photo of Cooper public domain; photo of Kuhns courtesy Kuhns campaign)

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper, who has been in office for 27 years, lost his bid for re-election on Saturday to Rehoboth City Commissioner and longtime businessman Paul Kuhns in what some observers considered a surprise development.

Cooper and Kuhns have expressed strong support on LGBT issues in a beach resort town that has long been known as LGBT-friendly and a popular destination for LGBT visitors and residents from the Mid-Atlantic region, including D.C. and Baltimore.

Observers familiar with the Rehoboth LGBT community said LGBT voters appeared to be divided in their support between Cooper and Kuhns and were expected to base their decision on who to cast their ballot for on non-LGBT issues. A controversial construction project for a new City Hall that has resulted in a large cost overrun has loomed above most other issues for LGBT voters along with their straight counterparts, observers said.

Lesbian administrator Lisa Schlosser, a former military intelligence officer who recently worked in high-level positions in the federal government under the Obama administration, won election to the Rehoboth Board of Commissioners, which serves as the city’s legislative body.

Schlosser ran in a three candidate race for two open seats on the Commission.

“It was not an election about gay rights,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who divides his time between D.C. and Rehoboth and who backed Kuhns. “This was an election that was a fight over how to manage the city.”

Gay activist and former D.C. resident Peter Schott, who lives fulltime in Rehoboth but, like Rosenstein, resides outside the city limits and is ineligible to vote, said Kuhns’ victory didn’t surprise him.

“A lot of people said this was it for Cooper,” Schott said in referring to the controversy over the City Hall project in which many voting residents expressed anger over an expected $3.5 million cost overrun for the project.

Cooper, who was running for his 10th consecutive term as mayor, said the cost overruns were due to rising costs in construction contracts that had been approved unanimously by the commissioners, including Kuhns.

Many of Rehoboth’s longtime residents have credited Cooper with maintaining Rehoboth’s clean beaches and its small town atmosphere. Until recently, many voters believed the city was well run, Cooper was doing a good job, and there was no need to elect someone else, according to many familiar with Rehoboth politics.

In the previous two elections in 2011 and 2014 gay businessman Tom McGlone ran against Cooper on grounds that the city under Cooper’s leadership had adopted overly burdensome regulations that were hurting small businesses and it was time for a change. Cooper beat McGlone by comfortable margins both times, with a larger margin in 2014 than in 2011.

Kuhns argued that the mayor was running the city largely on a year to year basis and had not worked as well as he should have with the city manager to develop a long range plan that, if put in place years earlier, could have averted the cost overruns. Kuhns also criticized Cooper for not inviting residents to be part of the decision-making process on a wide range of issues, pledging to open up the government to greater citizen and community participation.

Prior to moving to Rehoboth full time in 2005 Kuhns worked for 25 years as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch in New York, where he headed a division specializing in municipal finance. He currently operates small businesses, including a sandwich shop and restaurants, in Rehoboth and surrounding Sussex County.

Before retiring last year from her career in the federal government, Schlosser in recent years served as deputy chief information officer at the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management.

“She’s an amazing woman,” Rosenstein said. “She has retired now and she retired to Rehoboth,” added Rosenstein, where he said her years of experience in the federal government would help her contribute to the operation of the Rehoboth government.

Schlosser will become the second gay member of the seven-member Board of Commissioners. Gay Commissioner Patrick Gossett, who was not up for election this year, supported Cooper in the mayoral race.

The official vote count released on the Rehoboth Beach city website shows that 1,706 registered voters cast their ballots in the Aug. 12 election, with 879 voting in the single polling place at the city fire house on Election Day and 436 voting by absentee ballot.

Kuhns received 761 votes, with Cooper receiving 543 votes, according to the election returns.

In the race for the two Board of Commissioners seats, the highest two vote-getters were declared the winners among the three candidates running.

Incumbent Commissioner Kathy McGuiness, a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, received 903 votes; Schlosser came in second place with 706 votes; and candidate Susan Gay received 607 votes.

The winners are scheduled to be sworn into office on Sept. 15.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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