With just under five weeks before the filing deadline, four candidates have entered the race for three seats in Dewey Beach’s municipal election.
Three candidates, TJ Redefer, Dale Cooke and Paul Bauer, are incumbents. Resident Phil Rowe has also thrown his hat into the ring.
A full-time resident for three years, Rowe said he has been coming to Dewey since he was born in 1959, the same year his grandfather bought his home.
Originally from north Baltimore County, Rowe was CEO of technological services companies in Baltimore and California from 1986 to 2003. He also owned a medical spa practice, and a thoroughbred farm in Kentucky.
“Now that I’m retired, I have the time and interest to run,” he said. “I want to help make Dewey a good place to visit and an even better place to live.”
Rowe said he will bring new ideas, new perspective and new blood to the role. He said his experience in turning around foundering businesses can help the town.
“I’d like to change the dynamic and trajectory into a more positive direction,” he said. “People don’t have to always agree, but we need to make goals and meet them. I don’t see any goals being met at all. More needs to be done to create better communication among commissioners and eliminate distrust so we can move past issues and not dwell on them. More leadership is needed to keep things moving in the right direction.”
Rowe said he respects business interests as well as residential renters, who he said are a tremendous asset to the community by providing places for families to stay and have a nice vacation.
Among Dewey’s biggest challenges, he said, are flooding, parking and people not following dog leash and cleanup rules.
“We need to be prepared for the kinds of storms we see up and down the coast,” Rowe said. “We need better parking management; there are more people coming here and less places to park. It’s confusing. I’m a dog owner, and Dewey is dog-friendly, but we need to make sure people know the laws.”
First elected in 2017, Redefer was named mayor that same year. He said he is running again because he is uniquely qualified to take the town to the next level.
“We are at a critically important time in Dewey Beach history,” Redefer said. “These are exciting and important days for Dewey Beach. It’s critical that the people who serve as commissioners and the mayor are long-time residents who truly want what’s best for the residents and the town’s future, and who are in it for the long haul.”
Redefer said he originally ran “to clean up a mess a mess that we did not create. We did that, but many challenges remain.”
Redefer said more funding is needed to better equip the police department, and creative ways must be found to develop consistent revenue streams to pay for the town’s operations.
“We’ve had a long-standing challenge with stormwater management, and we need to build a more storm-resilient community for all,” Redefer said. “We must continue to protect our public bay and ocean beaches. And we have the large-scale Coastal Highway resurfacing project beginning in the fall that will continue into the winter, which is a major initiative we have to manage.”
Since he was elected, Redefer said, he helped create a collaborative program involving local and state government, business owners and residents to purchase beach mats. He said his office quickly designed and implemented a response plan to stop large fights that had been occurring.
“There have been no major incidents since,” he said. “We’ve gone a long way to overhaul the government, but there’s more to be done. We completed the process of removing and replacing the town manager, and we instituted a comprehensive financial reform package that increased transparency, improved processes and cut costs.”
Redefer and Bauer, who was also elected in 2017, have announced they are running together.
Bauer said he has accomplished much during his term, but said more needs to be done.
“Two years ago was an ugly time for our beach town,” Bauer said. “Some very toxic people created a hostile work environment for all who lived, worked and visited here. Building upon the positive strides that we have made and continuing progress on the important issues of public safety, alleviating infrastructure/flooding issues, and promoting Dewey Beach as a positive, well-rounded beach town are my priorities.”
Bauer said some people continue to publicly criticize town employees.
“We all have to work together to move forward and not go back to where we were,” he said. “We need to keep pressing forward to stay in front of public safety issues, such as police staffing; public works concerns, such as the current condition of Coastal Highway; and environmental issues, such as stormwater management systems. We also need to continue to scrutinize every dollar we spend and make sure we are good stewards of the town budget.”
Bauer said his accomplishments since taking office include reinstituting the dormant budget and finance committee, ensuring the town’s accounting practices conform to generally accepted accounting procedures, and saving money by replacing the finance director and using Luff & Associates accounting firm.
“We directed TGM Group, our auditing firm, to perform a procedural review of the town’s operations, directed the new town manager to create new and improved processes as to how all monies are handled by the government, and identified and inventoried all surplus items acquired by the police department,” Bauer said.
Cooke, who said he is running on his own, has many years of experience in town management, having served on town council from 2002 to 2008, and since 2015. He was mayor from 2016-17, and interim town manager for several months in 2018.
A full-time resident and Dewey homeowner for two decades, Cooke said he decided to run for another term to help the town. He is running independently, and prides himself on being a calming influence among commissioners.
“I really think I can do something for Dewey. I know that sounds corny,” he laughed. “I like to play the bridge-builder and try to make compromises. I tend to bring people together and corral the group into the right direction.”
Cooke said he is worried about Dewey’s long-term viability in the face of global warming.
“I’d like to see us develop an abatement plan,” he said. “We need to do something, because we can’t stop sea levels from rising.”
Cooke said a much-anticipated stormwater management plan is ready to break ground this fall to reduce flooding and reduce pollution flowing into Rehoboth Bay.
“It’s a pilot program for Read Avenue by the Little Store and on the bay side,” Cooke said. “Read Avenue is like a bowl, where all the water collects. If it works there, we can do it street by street throughout the town.”
In the short term, Cooke said, he wants to continue working for the safety and security of residents. He said the town has come a long way since its free-for-all party reputation of the past.
“There are problems at a couple businesses, but it’s not endemic to this town,” Cooke said. “I’m proud there have been less problems year after year. I’d like to be part of this downward trend of trouble and keep things calm.”
Candidate and voter information
The deadline for candidate filing and voter registration is 5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 22.
Eligible voters must be registered to vote, 18 years of age or older who are bona fide residents, property owners, property leaseholders for more than five years provided the lease is recorded with the Sussex County Recorder of Deeds, or a settler/creator and trustee of a valid trust that is the owner of real property within city limits.
Eligible voters may vote by absentee ballot before the election or by voting machine on Election Day.
Absentee applications will be available starting Monday, July 29, in Town Hall, 105 Rodney Ave. Absentee voting takes place in town hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 3 to Friday, Sept. 6; Monday, Sept. 9 to Friday, Sept. 13; and Monday, Sept. 16 to Thursday, Sept 19. The final chance to vote absentee is 9 a.m. to noon, Friday, Sept. 20.
Weekend absentee voting will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7, and Saturday, Sept. 14, in Town Hall.
The election will be held 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21, in the Dewey Beach Lifesaving Station, 1 Dagsworthy Ave. For more information, call Dewey Beach Town Hall at 302-227-6363.