Updated: Mar 29
After this article published new information came in that contradicts some of what was reported. Refer to the footnotes to see the updated statements.
It’s election season and Garrett County residents have some choices in candidates running for office this midterm year, which is not always the case. Often candidates run unopposed in the general election since the county is predominantly Republican with no Democratic challengers. Early voting began October 25 leaving little time for candidates to win over new voters. This year, with two party choices for Delegate and Commissioner, and a write-in for commissioner, the stakes seem higher which may be the reason for some morally questionable or borderline illegal acts of aggression. Two candidates are feeling pushback over their bids for office including Democrat, Judy Carbone who has run a high-profile campaign since the June primary. She has focused on a platform of inclusivity for women, Democrats, the politically disenfranchised, and inspiring new and young voters to get politically active. Carol Gnegy laid out reasons she felt Carbone shouldn’t be elected as county commissioner in her letter to the editor that appeared in the Garrett County Republican last week. Gnegy leveraged property rights and language reminiscent of certain landowners during the fevered pro-fracking arguments of 2017. Carbone was an outspoken advocate for banning fracking through her work with Engage Mountain Maryland, an organization on which she serves as a board member. There was palpable friction between safety, environmental concerns, economic issues, and landowners hoping to cash in on their mineral rights. When the Carbone campaign first learned of Gnegy’s gripes, they were legitimately concerned about it but even more bothered that it was from someone who appeared to be unknown to anyone. Carbone had hoped to meet with the outspoken critic, which has been the hallmark of her campaign. She has openly welcomed varied opinions on a long list of subjects from health care to public education. Her hope, she says, is to make sure she understands both sides of each important issues so if she is elected on November 6, she will be prepared to represent the broader view of opinions she would face as commissioner. Searches for Gnegy came up empty, raising skepticism that the source of the letter was from a real person at all. The search was thorough and its author did not appear on the voter registration list, tax roles, address checks, phone listings or social media.
The editor of the newspaper who published the letter has been unsuccessful in reaching Gnegy since the issue went to press. To all intents and purposes, Gnegy appeared to be authentic by providing three forms of identification; Street address, phone, and email which do not check out. Now, the campaign is left wondering if Gnegy was an invented character designed to shield the identity of an individual or special interest group. Whatever the circumstance, Carbone is disappointed there is no opportunity to address “Gnegy” with a personal or public exchange before voters head to the polls. The same time the peculiar letter to the editor hit the newsstands, Republican, Bob Gatto submitted a last-minute filing as a write-in candidate for commissioner in District 3, currently held by the incumbent, Jim Hinebaugh. Gatto ran in the June primary against Hinebaugh and a second challenger, Fred Fox who is a widely known businessman in the small town of Friendsville. Gatto served a previous term as commissioner making him a recognizable contender for public office and he also runs his own electrical contracting business that places him in the public eye. Although he didn’t win the primary, he and Fox collectively earned the popular vote by a margin of roughly 700 votes over Hinebaugh’s total support. Although a defeat, Gatto felt he still has a chance in the general election with the ballot whittled down to just two candidates, him and Hinebaugh. He’s counting on securing Fox’s support base, county Democrats, and Independents who could not vote for him in the primary. Gatto turned to Facebook before filing as a write-in candidate at the eleventh hour. He received so much support after posting his intentions that he felt prepared to jump back into the race with confidence he was making an informed decision. His quiet, unassuming demeanor has earned him much bipartisan appeal. In preparation for the nearing general election, Gatto pulled his yard signs back out of storage for the third time, placing them about the county in key locations and on supporter's lawns. What he didn’t expect was a report that someone had removed his signs from the Republican Central Committee lawn at the Genus Center despite the permission one of his supporters secured from the RCC. The reason the signs were removed is unclear (See updated accounts below) but who removed them was certain according to two eye-witnesses who snapped pictures to document the incident. Exposure can make a big difference when uninformed voters are casting their ballots. Name recognition is beneficial even if voters are unaware of a candidate’s specific platform. Defacing, tampering with or removing campaign signs is a serious offense that can result in a $1000 fine or up to a year in jail. The incident will need to go before the State’s Attorney to determine the intent of the act and whether charges are merited. Removal of Gatto’s sign and Carbone’s unfavorable letter to the editor brought both candidates attention on social platforms. If either incident was acted out with malic or politically motivated intent, the outcome may backfire. Voters don’t like dirty politics. All indicators show that voters are fired up this year with a 106 percent increase in first-day early voters getting to the polls in Maryland. That's 88, 578 compared to 42,880 just four years ago. Many local offices go unchallenged so there are at least three good reasons to vote on November 6.
UPDATE #1: According to the property owner of the Genis Center, the RCC gave Gatto permission to place his sign in front of the Genis Center. Owner, Bill Meagher did not give permission and because he donates the use of the building to the RCC, he did not want Gatto signs displayed and asked that they be removed because he was supporting the incumbent, Jim Hinebaugh.
UPDATE #2: The RCC denies giving permission to the person who placed the Gatto signs at the Genis Center on behalf of the candidate's campaign. Central Committee rules state that they are bound to only support the party nomination determined by the primary election which would exclude write-in candidates.