OCEAN CITY – The field of candidates for the Ocean City Council elections next month was rounded out this week with a few incumbents, a couple of former candidates and a handful of relative newcomers including one dark horse, a strip club owner with a colorful past and a passion for cutting frivolous spending and ever-increasing taxes in the resort.
The filing deadline came and went on Tuesday afternoon with the list of candidates for October’s City Council elections swelling to eight vying for four open spots. The list includes three incumbents, one former councilman, two former candidates and two newcomers, at least one of which certainly raised some eyebrows.
William J. Steiner, Jr., 60, now of Ocean City and formerly of Anne Arundel County, was one of the last to file and likely the one the Ocean City residents know the least about. He moved to Ocean City for good with his wife Janice in 2004 and the couple resides in a condo on the Boardwalk at 12th Street.
Steiner continues to own a strip club in Anne Arundel County called McDoogal’s just south of Baltimore and is currently in the process of appealing a court decision in Caroline County barring him from opening McDoogal’s East along a rural highway near Denton.
However, his concerns about Ocean City’s spending habits and the increased cost of living in the resort, particularly for seniors, and not his colorful past, appear to define him as a candidate. While he did not shy away from talking about the issues with his nightclubs, Steiner said in an interview this week he is just another local resident gravely concerned with the fiscal direction of the town.
“The main reason I’m running is because of all of the unnecessary spending and the ridiculous taxes,” he said. “This has become an expensive place to live, especially for the seniors, and they’ve been here longer than anybody. If I can get in office, maybe I can get help get a rein on spending and tax increases.”
Steiner said he doesn’t believe Ocean City needs a complete overhaul, but the self-made millionaire wants its leaders to take a closer look at the cost of living for those who actually live here. With Steiner, any discussion of the issues facing the resort comes back to its finances.
“I wouldn’t try to change the direction of the town,” he said. “In general, I think the town is doing great and moving in the right direction, but I keep coming back to the spending and taxes issue. I would try to keep spending very low. There’s a lot of unnecessary spending.”
While Ocean City continues to reach out to its traditional middle class customer base, some of the moves made recently run counter to that, according to Steiner. He particularly referenced the increase in the room tax this year to generate more revenue for marketing.
“They made a big deal about raising the room tax, but all that did is make Ocean City an even more expensive place to visit and stay,” he said. “It’s cheaper to take your family to the islands.”
Steiner acknowledged his strip club owner background. After running the successful McDoogal’s in Anne Arundel County for several years, he attempted to open a new strip club in a vacant sports bar on Route 404 near Denton in 2005, but Caroline County officials blocked the attempt with a temporary moratorium on adult-themed businesses and later drastic changes in the regulations on strip clubs including setbacks from schools, churches and residences and limitations on signs and other advertisements which, thereafter, became known as the “Steiner provisions.”
Steiner then sued the Caroline County Commissioners citing a laundry list of problems with their actions including their apparent site-specific regulations aimed directly at his proposed project and violations of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression among others. The Caroline County Circuit Court dismissed the suit in favor of the defendants, but Steiner is currently in the process of appealing that decision. The appeal remains active with oral arguments scheduled to be heard in early December.
While he made no attempt to distance himself from his strip club and his ongoing appeal of the case in Caroline County, Steiner said this week he has no designs on starting a similar operation in this area, although he did say there is likely a demand for it.
“I think there’s certainly a market for it,” he said. “There are a ton of golfers that come here. It could be great for weddings and bachelor parties. Look, I have no intention of trying to open a club here. If people don’t want it, and I suspect they don’t, then I wouldn’t try to force it on them. I wouldn’t try to force it down their throats.”
Nonetheless, Steiner continues to have serious misgivings about government regulating strip clubs or even slots. Personal choice, not government intervention, should dictate where people go and how they spend their money to some degree, he said.
“If you don’t like it, don’t go,” he said. “It’s just like slots, if you don’t like them, just don’t go. I can’t tell you what to do or how to spend your money, just like I wouldn’t want you to tell me what to do or what I should like. There are too many regulations and too many laws to keep you from having a good time.”