Fiotes Running Quiet, Uphill Campaign Against Byron

October 07, 1990|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

With just two elections under his belt, Christopher P. Fiotes Jr. has experienced both the heights and the depths of life in the political arena.

In September's primary, Fiotes captured the Republican Party nomination for the 6th District congressional seat, beating Kenneth W. Halsey of Garrett County and former Cumberland Mayor Frank K. Nethken.

But in 1986, the Gaithersburg, Montgomery County, resident and businessman experienced the nadir of vying for political office. He finished last in a field of 10 candidates running for the 15th District seat in the House of Delegates.

Still, as he prepares for his Nov. 6 showdown with six-term incumbent Beverly B. Byron, Fiotes said he values the experience he gained from his disappointing outing four years ago.

"The value I got out of running for that office was a lot of knowledge about what the state issues are, what is important to people on the state level," Fiotes said Thursday.

Though he says he learned a lot from that 1986 election, Fiotes may be headed for similar results in November. He faces a formidable challenge against Byron, who had a cakewalk in the primary, beating sole challenger Anthony P. Puca of Potomac, Montgomery County, by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

However, unlike the acerbic primary campaign waged by Byron and Puca, this one has been all but silent so far. Byron and Puca exchanged a number of caustic and controversial barbs in the weeks leading up the election.

Fiotes has expended most of his efforts in quietly traveling the district attending fairs, forums and other events and trying to establish name recognition.

Byron, on the other hand, has been "House-bound," busy with a Capitol Hill schedule that has left time only for limited campaign activity, said her spokesman, Beau Wright.

Wright dismissed the notion that Byron's truncated campaign approach stems from the perception that Fiotes poses little threat to the congresswoman.

"I think she would do the same no matter what the campaign was," he said.

Instead, Byron is preoccupied with a number of tasks in Washington, including work on the federal budget, Wright said.

"She feels her responsibilities are here, to make her votes and work on issues important to the people who put her here," he said.

No debates have been scheduled between the two candidates, although Fiotes said he has been approached about the possibility. During the primary campaign, two Byron-Puca debates were arranged. Byron sent an aide to the first one, which descended into a belittling exchange between the participants.

The second debate, which Byron attended, was more cordial.

Despite his long-shot status, Fiotes remains optimistic.

"It's a battle, but it's not something that's impossible," he said.

Fiotes, 56, said he has plenty to offer to the 6th District. He said the district is being left behind in the competition for state and federal financial support, such as for education and transportation projects.

Fiotes said he can make use of his Capitol Hill experience -- for 11 years he worked in the office of the Sergeant of Arms, which oversees security and administration in Senate office buildings -- to land more federal financial support for the 6th District.

"If you don't get out there and fight and make some noise, you won't get anywhere," he said. "I've seen how (Capitol Hill) operates and gets things done."

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