State Senator JB Jennings’ annual reception in Ocean City is one of the busiest events at the Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference.
The Sunny Gathering takes place at Coast Road restaurant Ropewalk, and it’s one of the most bipartisan, family-friendly events on the MACo social calendar. With free-flowing cocktails and live music, the late-afternoon gathering takes place outdoors, and attendees — lawmakers, lobbyists, government officials and others — are encouraged to bring their kids. They enjoy the playground covered with sand.
Last year, Jennings’ event felt like the center of Maryland’s political universe, as it served as something of a coming-out party for former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (right). At the time, the former Republican National Committee chairman was considering running for governor. Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (right), a potential rival, was also present and the two chatted for a while.
Governor Larry Hogan (right) stopped by last year and the senator expected him to also attend this year’s event, which was held on Thursday.
By late afternoon, the Governor’s security team was in place, one of his State House photographers was in place at the entrance to the party area and two members of the press shop of Hogan were there.
But Hogan never showed up.
According to Jennings, the governor’s plans changed when restaurant owner Marc McFaul, a supporter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox and former President Donald Trump, had a conversation with Hogan’s security detail.
“Marc came out and told his forward team he didn’t want him there,” Jennings said. “I think Marc was joking and giving them a hard time. The thing swelled up more than it was. It got worse because the soldiers are pretty serious, and you tell them, “I don’t want him here,” they’ll take it seriously.
The governor harshly criticized Cox, who defeated his favored candidate, Schulz, in the July 19 primary. He also scorned Trump during his numerous interviews on national talk shows. Hogan has visited New Hampshire and Iowa as he plans to run for the White House in 2024.
Jennings said he arrived late to his own party because a building closure had lasted longer than expected. He said he was “upset” to learn of McFaul’s interaction with Hogan’s security team.
“I was excited for the governor to come. I was hoping he would come. I told people he was coming,” the lawmaker said. “I went to tell Marc and he said, ‘No, no, I just wanted to blow off some steam. … But [Hogan’s] the team just said, ‘Let’s not do it.’ They are security guards. If they feel they’re going into a hostile situation, they won’t. So I think that’s why they decided not to come.
A Maryland Matters reporter left a message for McFaul at the restaurant but did not hear from him Friday night.
The restaurateur has donated to many Republican candidates over the years, and the Ropewalk Dining Room features a prominent statue of Ronald Reagan. A huge Cox sign sat at the entrance to the restaurant’s parking lot earlier this week.
In an interview, Hogan denied that his change of plans had anything to do with McFaul’s conversation with his security team.
The governor hosted an explosive reception at another nightlife venue in Ocean City on Wednesday night, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. He had busy schedules during the MACo conference, with many stops on the east coast. By the time Thursday night rolled around, he said, he was ready for a quiet evening with his wife.
“We had a list of five or six potential spots last night, but that wasn’t on our schedule,” he said. “I was quite tired after doing the 1,500 people the night before. I did my [MACo] word. I had ten events or whatever. So my wife and I went out to dinner and went to bed early.