HURLOCK — The often contentious Hurlock election for mayor is over but not without its last modicum of drama. Voters on Nov. 4 cast 173 ballots for current Mayor Joyce Spratt and 191 for her challenger, former councilman Michael Henry. The rather slim 18 point advantage was shaky since there were 15 absentee and 5 provisional ballots still to be counted.
Gwendolyn Dales, director of the county’s Board of Elections, explained their involvement. The board is hired by Hurlock and Cambridge to run their elections as well as county elections. “Other local elections are run by themselves.” The judges are a combination of county and town appointees.
During the absentee/provisional counting, Ms. Dales and Election Board staffers Kim Jones, IT specialist, and Jessica Noranbrock, staff specialist, organized and ran the orderly process. Among the 10 spectators who attended the counting were Ms. Spratt and Mr. Henry with supporters for each.
After the canvassers, Doretha Cephas and Margie Reed, completed their work of carefully opening, examining, and processing the outstanding votes, and observers John Avery and Margie Reed ensured a fair process, the already small lead was reduced to 10. Ms. Spratt picked up 14 and Mr. Henry got 6. The final tally was 197 to 187 to give the post to the challenger.
The final results were shocking for ardent Spratt supporters who assumed their candidate was unbeatable. Facebook posts reflected intense disappointment and anger. The tenor of the posts for Henry advocates was the polar opposite.
Asked why he ran for a post where he faced long odds, Mr. Henry said, “I was asked by many in the community to run. They thought I could do a great job and could benefit the town. So I considered it while I was recovering from my knee replacement surgery.” At first he thought about running for a district but since people strongly encouraged him to run for mayor he said, “So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Did he expect to win against an incumbent with a lot of support? “I said all along it would be a close race one way or the other. Ten votes – it was close. For a while after I voted I stayed at the firehouse. I looked at everybody going in and I’d think, ‘ok, I’m a few ahead,’ and then I’d see somebody else and I’d think ‘we’re on the other side now.’ After I moved to the library corner (on Main Street) I had no idea at that point. When they gave the numbers out I wasn’t surprised at how close it was.”
Facebook was chock-full of rumors that accused the challenger of being a quitter. He never addressed those rumors and says, “For the most part the people in the community knew I had retired from Easton police department; knew that I was on the town council and knew why I left the council – it was because I was hired for the Hurlock police department. It wasn’t a matter of being a quitter or a loser. I left the Hurlock department for personal reasons and two weeks later I had my knee replacement.” Following his recovery he joined the sheriff’s department.
Mayor Spratt is “fine.” She says, “I have got way, way too much support from everybody who feels bad that I didn’t win the election. But it was close. If he hadn’t played dirty politics and posted stuff on Facebook I might feel a lot different about it but I feel sorry for the people.”
She believes not only that Mr. Henry will not continue the projects her administration began, but indicates that department heads will resign and says, “I don’t know what he’s going to do. I think it’s a convoluted mess. The people are just up in arms and want all this stuff done against him and I’m not going to be a part of it.”
She feels that changing from a “strong” to a “weak” mayor system is the wrong direction for the town. On the other hand, Mr. Henry and some on the town council feel hiring a town manager to assume many mayoral duties and giving more control to the town council is a more efficient, transparent, and participatory way to govern.
Asked about her future plans, Ms. Spratt said she anticipates moving out of Hurlock and has had conversations with state officials who told her they have “bigger things for you to do.” She adds, “I’m not patting myself on the back but I’ve got way too much to give. People didn’t get out and vote and that’s not my fault. I’ve had a lot of phone calls saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t go out and vote. I knew you had it in the bag.’ And that’s a shame … So, I’m fine. Absolutely fine.”