Two St. Mary's County political veterans announced last week that they will be candidates in next year's elections for two of the county's most visible and powerful positions.
Democrat Michael Hewitt, 52, a former Board of Education chairman from Hollywood who also spent time on the Planning Commission and the county's board of zoning appeals, filed to run for president of the county commissioners.
And in an e-mail to reporters, Sheriff David D. Zylak (D) announced that he has filed for reelection.
Hewitt became the second Democrat hoping to replace commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large) in the top seat. Former waterman and environmental educator Jack Russell is also a candidate for the post.
"The position has become too partisan," Hewitt said of McKay's tenure. "He's alienated our state senator, Roy Dyson; he's alienated our delegate, John Bohanan; he's made it a divisive type of position, and my goal is to unify that."
In recent months, McKay has hinted that he would like to challenge Dyson for the state Senate seat next year. On Friday, he said he had not "in any way made a final decision" about his political future. He said he would probably decide around the end of December. As for his relationship with the state legislators, he said the differences were philosophical, not personal or partisan.
"I don't think the public wants people to agree on every issue; they want these issues debated," he said.
Hewitt graduated from Great Mills High School and St. Mary's College of Maryland. He is president of Hewitt's Truck and Car Rentals in Lexington Park and owns commercial real estate in the county. He described himself as a fiscal conservative. He criticized the commissioners for holding onto a $7.5 million economic stabilization fund -- intended to be a buffer against any downsizing of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station during the base closure process -- and the 9.2 percent increase in the county budget last year.
"When you're taking in more money than you need, you've got to give it back," Hewitt said.
On these points, however, he would be on the same side as the current commissioners president. McKay said that the county budget should not grow more than about 5 percent per year and that an increase such as last year's was "absolutely ludicrous." He was the only commissioner to vote against it. He also lost a vote to offer residents a tax refund. He said the county has been able to cut costs by restructuring management positions and eliminating about 25 jobs.
In his e-mail announcing his bid for a second term, Sheriff Zylak noted a number of accomplishments, including the creation of the Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the preparation for accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which could occur as early as August.
In a telephone interview, he said a top priority is to increase the ratio of deputies to residents from 1.53 deputies per 1,000 residents to 2 per 1,000.
He said the past three years as sheriff have been eye-opening for him.
"No matter which rank you are in the sheriff's office, you believe that you know everything the sheriff does," he said. "There are things that I had no idea the job encompassed. It takes a huge amount of time, volumes of paperwork and lots of reading."
Zylak's announcement was sent from his St. Mary's County e-mail account to an address list typically used to alert the media about programs and news at the sheriff's office. Some observers, including one potential Zylak challenger, questioned whether it was proper for Zylak to use the county's system for a political announcement.
Samuel T. Haynie, the chairman of the St. Mary's County Republican Central Committee and one of many people considering running for sheriff, had not seen the e-mail but said it seemed it could constitute a violation of ethics rules.
"If that's what he did, yeah, there's a problem there. He's using taxpayer-funded services to get the message out," Haynie said. "I wouldn't do it, and I would be mad if someone from my campaign staff did that. . . . [But] it's a thing that looks like maybe more of an oversight than anything else."