Councilman Fends Off Illness To Face Tough Race

4-term Incumbent Plays Up Experience, Capital Projects

October 14, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,staff writer

When County Councilman Edward C. "Buddy" Ahern pondered his future two years ago, he was thinking of training someone to replace him after 16 years of government service.

A long, noisy line of would-be successors quickly formed behind the Pasadena Democrat, who stayed away from council meetings for three months during the summer of 1988 while fighting off an attack of high blood pressure and mental depression.

Republican or Democrat, they all agreed that Ahern had lost his effectiveness as an advocate for District 3, which stretches south roughly from Marley Creek to the Magothy River between Route 2 and the Patapsco River.

Since then, Ahern, 51, has recovered his health. With his doctor's and family's blessings, he hopes to serve a fifth term and secure a new laundry list of capital projects for the district. Among his goals are construction of a golf course on Fort Smallwood Road, expanded services for youths and seniors and cleanup of his district's long-polluted waterways.

"If a new councilman came in, it would take four or five years for him to (learn) and accomplish anything, and these projects wouldn't get done," he said Friday.

But Republican candidate Carl G. "Dutch" Holland says Ahern has coasted through his previous four terms and believes it's too late for the councilman to announce the renewal of his vigor and political ambition.

"He's had 16 years of undistinguished service," said Holland, an 18-year Long Point resident with extensive voluntary service to the county during both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Holland, a liquor route salesman, is among a chorus of Ahern critics who say the incumbent did nothing for his constituents until 1982, when the council changed from at-large to district elections.

But Holland's chances of defeating Ahern rely on convincing people that the incumbent has not helped protect them from the rapid growth and degradation of the environment that have buffeted the area.

He must also convince voters that Ahern has been a passive political beneficiary of an impressive list of capital improvements, which Holland says naturally followed growth in the district.

Holland, 47, lost to Ahern by a margin of worse than 2-to-1 in 1986, despite endorsements from The Sun, The Evening Sun and Capital/Gazette newspapers.

But he found a sympathetic ear Thursday night, when he brought his bare-bones campaign to an organizing meeting of the High Point Improvement Association, which has been dormant since 1977.

He won appreciative laughter by describing the incumbent's district office -- the other six council members have offices only in the county's Annapolis and Glen Burnie office buildings -- as a plush luxury where Ahern can never be found.

"This is the real joke," Holland said, itemizing the expense of running the office, from the cost of the Venetian blinds to the carpet on the floor. "You're supporting a very nice office up there, but people say when you call he isn't there and he doesn't ever show up."

Carol Leisner, elected Thursday as the High Point group's vice president, described her own impatience with Ahern.

Leisner said she had been unable to enlist the councilman's help in shutting down illegal construction on a lot behind her home.

Joe Kunkel, former chairman of the association's board of directors, expressed general frustration with all longtime incumbents, saying that neither Ahern nor other county representatives have taken steps to clean up the dead and dying waterways that course the district.

District 3 Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than 2-to-1, but the GOP has picked up a net total of 3,400 voters in registrations through Oct. 5. Meanwhile, Ahern's 873-vote margin of victory in last month's primary was dramatically weaker than his 4,525-vote trouncing of his strongest Democratic contender in 1986.

But Ahern sees the low primary voter turnout -- about a third of Democrats in the district -- as a sign of satisfaction with his representation.

He reels off a list of capital projects that he says brought visible improvements and services to the district. These include three fire stations, a library, a planned sports complex and golf course and spoils sites for dredging of Rock and Marley creeks.

Holland points to long delays in cleaning up the creeks as a sign of Ahern's failed leadership and promises to develop solutions early in his term.

Among those pleased with Ahern is Linda Dooley, a Rock Creek resident who has fought for cleanup of the algae-choked tributary for more than a decade.

"I have never had problems with getting access to Mr. Ahern," she said.

"He always listens and is willing to help."

Dooley praised Ahern for his role in pushing the Lighthizer administration in a tight budget year for money to buy a horse farm on Fort Smallwood Road. The property is pegged for a golf course and a spoils site for Rock Creek dredging.

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