With a month to go before the election, tensions are rising between the two candidates running for mayor of Rehoboth Beach, Del.
First-term commissioner Edward Chrzanowski, who’s gay, dropped out of the race in June and endorsed incumbent Mayor Paul Kuhns, making the election a choice between Kuhns and former longtime City Commissioner Stan Mills.
In a letter to constituents explaining his rationale for leaving the race and supporting Kuhns, Chrzanowski emphasized their shared goals for the future of the city. Mills views Chrzanowski’s endorsement of Kuhns more cynically.
“If you look at Ed’s rationale for endorsing the mayor, of course he endorses the mayor, because Ed believes that he is able to manipulate the mayor,” Mills told the Blade.
In response to this assertion, Kuhns pointed to how the structure of Rehoboth’s government limits the power of the mayor to make decisions unilaterally.
“I’m wondering how he thinks that could happen. We are a legislative body of seven people. Anything I support needs at least three other votes,” Kuhns said. “I don’t know what he’s implying there. To manipulate me, Edward would have to be manipulating the other commissioners simultaneously.”
Mills told the Cape Gazette that Kuhns and Chrzanowski may have cut some kind of deal. This accusation is consistent with his view that Kuhns has not demonstrated a willingness to operate an open government.
Kuhns said Chrzanowski’s endorsement of him comes from having similar ideas about the future of the city.
“We had a conversation a few days after he filed to run and spoke about our visions for the city and realized that our visions coincided,” Kuhns said. “I think he basically saw that Mr. Mills’ visions for the future are not as positive as mine and wanted to create a situation where constituents are presented with a clear choice: Do they want to go backwards with the regime that’s been there for the last 30 years, or look forward and see the progress Rehoboth has made in the last three years continuing.”
Mills responded that claims from Kuhns that he wants to move the city backwards are “absurd”.
“Look at the total reconstruction of the boardwalk I led, that was forward thinking,” Mills said. “Saying I want to go backwards is fear-mongering, inaccurate, and something the opposition wants to use to look better than me.”
Kuhns said the perception that Mills wants to move the city backwards “isn’t fear mongering, it’s reality.”
“Stan can say that me saying he would be going backwards is fear-mongering because he is listening to a small group of people, but I think I’m listening to a large group of people,” Kuhns said. “I was voted in by a large number because people wanted something new. My fear is that if a couple candidates get into office, Stan Mills being one of them, things will turn back around to what they were. The capital improvement plan will slip to the sidelines, economic development won’t be considered, and people will think about ways to avoid having the tourism that pays for all the services we have here in the city.”
Contributing to concerns that Mills is not forward thinking is the perception that Kuhns is the pro-business candidate while Mills is pro-homeowners.
“I think that perception is probably accurate,” Mills said. “I don’t like labels because I don’t know what pro-business is. To some of my constituents, pro-business means giving businesses preferential treatment and neglecting residential neighborhoods.”
Mills also faces questions from gay residents stemming from his 2010 use of a rarely enforced ordinance to target businesses, some of them gay owned, for hosting late-night drinking and dining on outdoor patios. Mills’ invocation of the ordinance led to a raid of the gay-owned Aqua Grill and the arrest of its then-owner Bill Shields. The Delaware State Public Integrity Commission issued an opinion stating that Mills may have violated a state conflict of interest law because he owns a bed and breakfast located next to the gay bar Blue Moon, which has a patio and was also targeted in the raid. It turned out that both establishments were grandfathered in and not subject to the early patio closure.
“To me that’s old news,” Mills said. “I’m sorry that happened, I’m sorry the way that was perceived. It’s lessons learned and not forgotten, but we have to move on.”