The clock is ticking on the campaign season for Rehoboth Beach’s 2020 municipal election, and during a recent candidate forum, both mayoral candidates accused the other of fearmongering.
From the outset of the July 18 forum, incumbent Mayor Paul Kuhns was on the offensive. During his opening statement, he laid out the case how the city had lagged behind other resort communities in economic development and infrastructure improvements during the previous administration – a significant majority of which his challenger and former Commissioner Stan Mills was a part of.
“Since my first election in 2006, there’s been a loud minority, including a couple of today’s candidates, spreading false rumors that I’m in the pocket of realtors and developers, and that I want Rehoboth Beach to be the next Ocean City. That’s a lie,” said Kuhns. “Please do not believe their fearmongering. This loud minority does this every election. I know our constituents want to move forward, not relive the past.”
Mills didn’t accuse Kuhns of fearmongering in his opening statement – he chose to focus on his accomplishments as commissioner – but he did make the accusation during a question related to how candidates thought their vision of Rehoboth was better than the others’.
Kuhns said he wanted to bring Rehoboth forward, not backward, and to focus on opportunities, not memories.
Mills responded by saying he doesn’t understand Kuhns’ charge of going backward.
“It could not be further from the truth, and it’s just fearmongering,” said Mills, who then listed an overhaul of the Boardwalk, no smoking on the beach and other accomplishments as forward-thinking actions during his time as a commissioner. “I just don’t get the mayor and what he’s heading at there.”
The forum was hosted by CAMP Rehoboth and the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners’ Association. All six candidates participated in the forum – incumbent Mayor Paul Kuhns and former Commissioner Stan Mills in the mayoral race, and Purple Parrot owner Hugh Fuller, former Commissioner Patrick Gossett, former Commissioner Jay Lagree and planning commission member Rachel Macha in the commissioner race. Sitting Commissioners Lisa Schlosser and Steve Scheffer are not running for re-election.
There were 12 questions. Among the topics were establishment of a beach tag program, implementation of 5G wireless technology, candidates’ definition of charm, and whether they support President Donald Trump.
Recognizing a new source of potential revenue in trying times, not one candidate said they were against a beach tag program; instead, they all said there were too many questions to make a definitive statement.
One question asked candidates how they would relieve the us-versus-them tension between full-time residents and business owners. All the candidates recognized residents benefit from the revenue businesses bring into town.
It’s an issue that shouldn’t exist, but it does, said Kuhns.
Gossett described it as a false dichotomy. The reasons people want to own a house here are the same reasons people want to visit, he said.
Fuller said as a business owner and a residential property owner, he sees both sides. But, he said, the tension was worse under the city’s previous administration.
The candidates were asked if they thought it was a good idea to sell the wastewater treatment plant.
Mills said his answer was a simple, “No,” while Kuhns said it was an issue that was up in the air. Lagree said he was against the idea because he didn’t want the city to lose control of what comes out of the ocean outfall pipe.
The candidates were asked if the city should continue to explore a citywide shuttle service.
Macha said the city should put together a pilot program, and if something goes wrong, continue to work at it. It could be like outdoor dining, she said.
Gossett said the city should wait to see if the new wayfinding signage helps alleviate some of the congestion.
All the candidates said they support improved pedestrian safety initiatives.
When asked to define economic development, Kuhns said the city’s economy is in trouble because of COVID-19. He estimated 30 to 40 percent of businesses are going to close. He said the city needs to embrace the wave of the future.
Mills said he sees economic development as strengthening services provided to property owners and visitors.
Macha said she doesn’t see Rehoboth becoming Ocean City, but it was time to think about the vitality of the city and figure out where it was going to be in the future.
Fuller said the city needs to find a way to keep improving infrastructure, but it will be hard to know how to pay for it because things are changing daily.
As for supporting Trump, all the candidates said they don’t, except Lagree, who declined to answer because he said he thought the question demeaned the forum.
For those who missed the CAMP Rehoboth/homeowners’ association forum, it can be watched on CAMP’s Facebook page.
Voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 8, in the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, 229 Rehoboth Ave.
The deadline to register to vote has passed, but any qualified elector can still request an absentee ballot by filing an absentee ballot form, which is available online, no later than noon, Friday, Aug. 7. The deadline for the city to mail out ballots is Tuesday, Aug. 4. Ballots must be received by mail or in person before the polls close on the day of the election.
For more information, contact Donna Moore at 302-227-6181, Ext. 108, or go to www.cityofrehoboth.com.