Public officials sometimes are accused of keeping citizens in the dark. But last night, politicians and citizens shared the darkness.
About 8:45 p.m., local utility and fire officials said, a truck hit a utility pole in Clarksville, cutting off power to Clarksville Elementary School where contenders for Howard County executive and County Council engaged in a candidates' debate before some 100 spectators.
The power outage occurred just as some candidates were discussing the need for an adequate public facilities law.
"Inadequate public facilities," a voice wise-cracked from the darkness.
Joyce Kelly, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, which sponsored the debate, had asked the candidates which services they would cut if they had to reduce spending.
County Executive Elizabeth Bobo held a microphone and was about to respond when the lights flickered, then died. Generator-powered emergency lights also failed to work, eliciting laughter and murmurs from the audience, which remained in good humor throughout the incident.
When Peggy Ecker, wife of Charles Ecker, Republican candidate for county executive, pierced the darkness with her penlight, some spectators even urged the group to continue.
But the candidates expressed no desire to keep the debate going. After a few minutes, Councilman Charles Feaga, R-5th, and Democratic opponent Susan Scheidt reached their only agreement of the night -- that people should slowly and orderly leave the school auditorium.
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and county fire officials said when the truck struck the utility pole in the 5100 block of Sheppard Lane, electrical power was knocked out in the entire Clarksville area.
John A. Metzger, a BG&E spokesman, said early today that service to 513 customers was interrupted. He said power was restored to many of those customers by 10:05 p.m. and to all but five households by 11:26 p.m. Metzger said workers were replacing the utility pole and that service would be restored to the remaining customers.
Before the power outage, the candidates sparred over growth in Howard County and ways to control it. Democrats praised themselves for implementing growth-management measures
and Republicans blamed Democrats for letting growth get out of hand in the first place. No candidate appeared to score a decisive victory during the debate.
Bobo said her 1990 general plan for directing the county's growth over the next 20 years would lead to orderly growth in the future because it requires government to limit the number of residential housing units to 2,500 a year.
"What happened in the last general plan is that growth was placed at 2,000 units, yet the [Hugh Nichols] administration did nothing to monitor the number of units that were being built," she said.
Ecker said he liked Nichols' 1982 general plan and that Bobo could have helped it along by sponsoring an adequate public facilities bill during her tenure on the County Council. He noted that her administration opposed a similar measure that Councilwoman Angela Beltram, D-2nd, sponsored last spring.
Kelly said the citizens association would not resume the debate with last night's group of candidates because it would not be able to schedule all of them together before the Nov. 6 general election.
But the candidates are scheduled to appear on Oct. 27 at a
public forum sponsored by the county chapter of the League of (( Women Voters.