Growth, taxes were crucial issues in county races

September 13, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien Gelareh Asayesh, Michael J. Clark, S.M. Khalid and Sheridan Lyons of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this report.

Voters who decided races from Montgomery to Harford counties sent a two-part message ringing across Maryland -- keep development and property tax increases in check.

Anti-development sentiments knocked Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer out of office, helped defeat four-term county council members in Baltimore and Harford counties, nearly led to the defeat of a Howard County councilman and was "the No. 1 issue" facing commissioner candidates in Carroll County.

"They associated me with the development," Mr. Kramer, 65, conceded after his loss Tuesday to County Councilman Neal Potter, who had a reputation for favoring slow growth. "Obviously they associated me with the traffic."

Mr. Kramer's background as a self-made millionaire who was associated closely with the business and development communities worked against him in an election that focused largely on growth. He harbored ambitions to run for governor in 1994.

In Baltimore County, growth-control advocate Vincent Gardina, defeated four-term Councilman Norman W. Lauenstein. In his campaign, the challenger focused on the clogged highways and overcrowded schools in the 5th District, which includes the booming communities in Perry Hall and White Marsh.

"The feeling is that we have to do more to reverse the cart-before-the-horse approach that we're seeing to development," said Mr. Gardina, 34, founder of ACCORD, the Association of Community and Conservation Organizations to Respond to Development.

And in Harford County, community activist Theresa M. Pierno beat four-term incumbent John A. Schafer, D-District C, by sounding the alarm over how development was adversely affecting the county.

"People saw me not only as one who would control growth, but also protect the environment," said Mrs. Pierno, 32, president of the Community Coalition of Harford County and a leader in the fight against a proposed mall that became a symbol of the county's rapid development.

Even where slow-growth advocates did not succeed, they gave incumbents a scare. Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, apparently managed to defeat John W. Taylor: Mr. Feaga was leading by 141 votes but with the absentee ballots still to be counted.

Mr. Taylor, a founder of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, had stressed the need to control development during his campaign.

In Carroll County, where the opening of the Northwest Expressway in 1986 has meant a housing boom, Richard T. Yates, a Republican commissioner candidate, said "growth was

the No. 1 issue" cited by voters responding to a questionnaire he mailed out before he decided to run for office.

Mr. Yates, 65, who is retired from the U.S. Army's inspector general's office, said taxes were cited as second in his sampling. Both concerns are reflected in his campaign slogan: "Had Enough?"

Westminster-area dairy farmer Donald I. Dell, the top vote-getter of the three Republican primary victors, agreed that growth played a major part in the race.

"That seems to be the ... basis of all the problems we have: The volunteer fire companies are feeling overwhelmed, the schools are overcrowded, and the roads are jammed," said Mr. Dell, whose slogan was "Keep it Country."

Richard F. Will Sr., a Democratic candidate for Carroll County commissioner, added, "People I called and talked with, if I had to rank [issues] that way, then growth was probably the No. 1."

The other major issue -- rising property taxes -- was instrumental in the defeat of one Baltimore County councilman and proved to be a major factor in elections from Montgomery to Carroll counties, officials said.

In Baltimore County, Councilman Dale T. Volz, D-7th, was trounced by Donald Mason, a 63-year-old retired Bethlehem Steel worker who has led a taxpayer protest group in the economically depressed neighborhoods of Dundalk for a decade.

Mr. Mason said yesterday that being a retired steel worker may have helped him win in a district with a large senior-citizen population. But he said a key was his emphasis on taxpayer concerns.

Such emphasis will be a trend among elected officials in the years ahead and will spread to other councilmanic districts countywide and, eventually, to other jurisdictions across the state, he said.

"My hope is that a debate will occur on how we're spending the people's money," Mr. Mason said.

The debate over property taxes has already taken hold in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, where questions asking voters to restrict property tax increases have been the focus of petition drives.

Montgomery County Council members placed their own version of a tax limit on the November ballot. Voters will also decide two other ballot questions on capping taxes in the Nov. 6 election.

Questions slated for the ballot in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have been ruled unconstitutional by lower courts, but those decisions are currently before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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