Sussex primary campaigns have gone awry

September 9, 2022

Editor's note: In recent days, the Cape Gazette has been inundated with campaign materials, letters, press releases and anonymous tips in regard to the upcoming Sept. 13 primary election. Publishing this information at the 11th hour before the election without the opportunity for verification, receiving confirmation from the agencies involved and responses from the aggrieved parties would be irresponsible. The intentional actions of those involved to flood the Cape Gazette with accusations, misinformation and personal attacks this close to the election is a thinly veiled attempt to use these pages to sway voters.

In the history of recent Sussex County politics, no campaign comes close to the negativity surrounding the Republican primary for the District 5 Sussex County Council seat. In the past, some races for county council have been spirited, but none have reached the level of the 2022 campaign.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said it best in a social media post: “There's a level of hatred in the air that is permeating races throughout the state. Hit pieces, sign vandalism, false accusations and other tactics are as old as politics itself, but are they really necessary and do they really work anymore? Why can't we stick to the issues, to visions for our towns, counties and state?”

In District 5, incumbent John Rieley is being challenged by Keller Hopkins, who has served on the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission since 2016. 

It's been an unwritten policy that members of county council do not campaign in primary races. That policy was thrown out the door when District 3 Councilman Mark Schaeffer asked Rieley in a public meeting to consider resigning from council for accepting a gift of soil and labor to spread it from a developer.

Perhaps his complaint should be investigated, but the timing reeks of politics.

The Rieley camp fired back though social media posts that Hopkins has voted to approve subdivisions his construction company later did work for. Again, this accusation – and the whole issue of potential conflict of interest – is worthy of investigation, but the timing is purely political.

As District 4 Councilman Doug Hudson said in a recent meeting, “We all know where the camps are.” Schaeffer is clearly working on behalf of Hopkins, while Hudson and Council President Mike Vincent are working behind the scenes on behalf of Rieley. 

Hopkins said he would spend as much money as he needed to win the seat to make sure his agenda is carried forward. Rieley said he would take the high road, but his recent posts – and posts by his supporters – on social media and mailings to voters stray off that road.

This is not the way Sussex County elections have been conducted in the past. We can only hope this is not a harbinger of things to come in the future.

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter