Republican Ernest C. Michaelson wants to know who he's running against in the 2nd County Council District -- Severn attorney Edward Middlebrooks or Clerk of Circuit Court H. Erle Schafer.
Because the 2nd District -- the Glen Burnie area -- is dominated by Democrats, Michaelson, a 55-year-old Hanover environmental consultant known for his work battling airport noise, feels the last thing he needs is to take on both Middlebrooks and his mentor.
A former state senator and county councilman, Schafer still has a wide network of political contacts and campaign experience, even if his influence in county politics has waned.
His close personal and political relationship with Middlebrooks, the 35-year-old political and civic activist who soundly defeated four other Democrats in the Sept. 11 primary, dates back to the early 1970s. Schafer had counseled "Eddie," as he calls him, in a youth group at the Glen Burnie Methodist Church.
"I've known Eddie since he was a young boy," Schafer says. "It's been a growing-type relationship ever since he was a young man."
It's also a relationship that concerns some Democratic party leaders, who suspect that Schafer -- a politician whose past reputation carries more weight than his current position -- is using his protegee as a way to regain some power in county government.
Daniel Klosterman, a 2nd District candidate who lost to Middlebrooks in the primary, noted, "Ed's an intelligent individual . . . but I think he will be a puppet for Erle Schaefer."
Outgoing 2nd District Councilman Michael F. Gilligan, D-Glen Burnie, admitted he was talking about Schafer when he said Middlebrooks has to "stand up and be his own person and not owe his allegiance to any one person."
And Sen. Michael Wagner, D-Ferndale, who lost his Senate seat to Schafer in 1978 only to reclaim it four years later, said that at this point, Middlebrooks is "an Erle Schafer clone."
Opinions differ about whether Middlebrooks' alliance with Schafer matters in his campaign against Michaelson.
Trevor Kiessling, a Democratic activist and attorney who worked with Middlebrooks in the State's Attorney's Office, said Schafer's campaign skills and inside contacts are "a tremendous, tremendous plus" for Middlebrooks. "With Erle Schafer helping Ed, it almost makes it a non-possibility" that Michaelson will win, Kiessling said.
On the other hand, Gilligan said, "Erle doesn't have the ability to help anybody. He'll be lucky if he doesn't lose to (Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee Chairwoman) Mary Rose," who is opposing his bid for a second term as Clerk of Court.
For Michaelson, one of the biggest obstacles in this campaign is the sheer strength of the Democrats. Democrats outnumber the GOP by almost 2-to-1 in this district. In the primary election, 47 percent of the Democrats voted, compared to 28 percent of Republicans.
What this means is that Michaelson must draw Democrats over to his side.
"I'm hoping all the people who voted for (Joseph) Procaccini and Klosterman and (George F.) Johnson (in the primary) will say they don't like the way Middlebrooks ran his campaign. I have to get their votes.
There are just not enough Republicans to carry all the Democrats up here."
Michaelson, who, like Middlebrooks, has never run for office before, is considered a credible, qualified candidate by the local GOP. This is especially so in light of his environmental credentials and experience with the airport -- the biggest single issue in District 2.
He serves on both the BWI Environmental and BWI Airport Neighbors committees, and chaired the latter from 1987 to 1990. Since 1982, he has served on numerous other airport committees. About a year ago, he led a successful battle with the Federal Aviation Administration to alter takeoff patterns over Glen Burnie.
As chairman of the Neighbor's Committee, Michaelson was responsible for wresting control of meetings away from BWI officials and giving it to citizens, said Lewin S. Maddox, who has worked with Michaelson on the committee for more than three years.
"He seems to be an excellent administrator," Maddox said. "He was out to protect the people he represented and looked out for their interests. I never had any problems with him."
An environmental engineering manager for Chevron for 20 years, Michaelson, who is married with three grown children, formed his own consulting firm, ECM Environmental Associates, in 1980.
Unlike Middlebrooks, who has developed close ties to the local Democratic party, Michaelson has been a "Lone Ranger" kind of candidate, working on his own, apart from the Republican party, said Rose, the Republican central committee chairwoman.
That could hurt Michaelson on Nov. 6, she said, since "Republicans usually feel more comfortable with candidates who have paid their dues."