Three vie to become the new mayor of Oxford Borough
By Steven Hoffman
Pam Benjamin, Lorraine Durnan Bell, and Randy Grace are campaigning to become the new mayor of Oxford Borough, and a candidates' forum on Oct. 10 found them competing for the support of borough residents as Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, approaches.
Bell, a current member of the Oxford School Board, is the Democratic nominee. Benjamin, the owner of two businesses in town, is the Republican nominee. Grace, a current member of Oxford Borough Council, has launched a write-in campaign for mayor while continuing his bid for a seat on council.
All three candidates used the forum as a way to share the professional experiences that have shaped them up to this point, and to communicate their vision for Oxford Borough's future.
Bell is a third-grade teacher in Rising Sun, Md., a position that she has held since 2001. She is also a part-time adjunct professor of psychology at Cecil College. In addition to serving on the Oxford School Board, Bell is a member of the borough’s planning commission. She explained that her love of Oxford is the motivation to serve as mayor.
“I feel that I am ready to show how much I care about this town,” Bell said.
She moved to Oxford at the age of eight, and she said that she really enjoyed growing up in town.
“The town was a source of excitement,” she said. “My childhood was amazing, and the town was the reason why.”
She moved back to Oxford to raise her own children so that they could attend the same schools that she attended and live and learn in the same community that she had grown up in. Bell became very active in the community.
When she launched her campaign to become mayor, Bell explained, she met with Police Chief John Slauch and Mayor Geoff Henry to learn as much as she could about the police department’s operations. Overseeing the police department is the biggest duty of mayors in Pennsylvania boroughs. Public safety is a priority for Bell. She said that, due to the tight budget of the Oxford Police Department, “it is vital that all working officers be on patrol when working. It is important that we have an all-hands-on-deck attitude so that we can add more evening foot patrols and more officers can be assigned daily.”
Grace, a council member for the last four years, earned a nomination for another term in the Primary Election in May. He is still campaigning for a seat on council, but has now launched a write-in bid to become the next mayor. He explained that he did not run for mayor in the primary because he didn’t want to be in competition with Ron Hershey, one of his colleagues on borough council. Hershey had sought the nomination for mayor in the Primary Election.
“I want to continue to serve my community in any way possible,” Grace said of the decision to run for mayor.
Grace is a manager of a data center operation with Automated Financial Systems.
“My primary responsibilities are overseeing a multi-million dollar computer environment that is manned 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” he explained. “I also am tasked with disaster recovery procedures.”
He and his wife, Lori, also own a business, the Maroon Hornet, in downtown Oxford, which gives him insights into what other business owners in town are experiencing.
Grace is proud of the fact that council has managed to pass a budget without a tax increase in three of the last four years, and there was only a small tax increase in the fourth year.
During his time on council, Grace has been the chairman of the Public Works Committee and also serves on the Police and Public Safety Committee, which already gives him significant knowledge about the workings of the police department.
Grace talked about how he sees great benefit to having an economically vibrant community. He said that he would like to see more events to bring people into town, so that more people see how great the town is.
“The downtown shops are getting filled up,” he said. “I want people to come to Oxford so much that they get tired of coming to Oxford and say, ‘I want to move to Oxford.’”
Grace said that if he wins a council seat and the mayoral race, he would decide to serve as the mayor. He added that he doesn't think there is any reason to support a particular candidate based on party affiliation.
“We’re a small town and there’s no need for partisan politics,” Grace said. “This is me wanting to be the mayor of the town. I love this town.”
Benjamin, the owner of the Miss Oxford Diner, pledged to be a voice for residents if she were elected mayor.
“As a small business owner, I want to see Oxford thrive and grow so that people want to live in, work in, and visit Oxford,” she said. “I will be a voice for not only my fellow business owners, but for all residents, regardless of political affiliation.”
Benjamin was born in Orlando, Florida and most of her childhood was spent in Delaware. Eventually, the family moved Maryland. She graduated from North East High School in Maryland.
“I like the small towns,” she said. “I want Oxford to be a place for people to come, a place for people to raise a family.”
Benjamin spent 12 years working as a legal secretary for a law firm in nearby Elkton, Md. Her friend, Jeff Lawson, owned the Miss Oxford Diner. At some time around 2003, she started helping out Lawson by running the diner on some weekends so that he could have a break. She immediately liked the diner and its customers. Lawson wanted Benjamin to become a partner in the business, and she eventually did. When he moved away in 2007, the business was entirely hers. Benjamin said that everything in her life led up to her ownership of the diner. Her legal background and management experience helped prepare her. She believes the skills that she has learned working at the law firm and running her own business will serve her well as a mayor.
“I feel that I have a skill set to offer the local government,” she said. “I also have a desire to do it. I have a legal background from running a law firm, and I own two [businesses]. I know how to make a budget and stick to it.
One of the biggest topics of conversation in Oxford in 2017 is the proposed parking garage, and while the next mayor would not have a vote for against such a project, there is no doubt that a new parking garage would impact the borough's future in a variety of ways.
As a council member, Grace has been supportive of the borough's efforts to secure grant funding for the contstruction of the parking garage.
Benjamin said that she knows that residents are concerned that there might be a cost to them to pay for the parking garage, and she shares those concerns. She explained, “It would be foolish to be against anything that will benefit the borough. But I am not supportive of anything that will cost money for borough residents.”
Bell sounded a more optimistic tone about the parking garage project, noting that the borough has already been successful in securing a significant amount of grant funding for the project.
“I’m a taxpayer too,” Bell said. “The burden will not be on the taxpayers.”
All three candidates talked about the importance of having a safe town for people to live and work.
“I want to make sure that we live in a community that is safe and secure,” Benjamin said.
All three candidates also talked about how they were inspired to serve as mayor of Oxford because of their love of the community.
“I see positive growth in this town,” Bell said. “There’s no need to make Oxford great again. We’re already great.”
On that point, Benjamin, Bell, and Grace would all likely agree.