Close seeks Harford executive's seat despite odds

October 17, 1990|By S. M. Khalid | S. M. Khalid,Harford County Bureau of The Sun

BEL AIR — An article in the Oct. 17 editions of The Sun incorrectly reported that the property tax rate in Bel Air remained steady while Geoffrey R. Close, the Republican candidate for Harford County executive, was chairman of the town's Board of Commissioners. In fact, the rate rose three times during his eight years in the post.

BEL AIR -- Former Bel Air Mayor Geoffrey R. Close knows he faces long odds in his quest to become Harford County's first Republican executive.

He is, after all, taking on a Democrat who is riding the crest of a resounding primary victory and who will outspend him by a ratio of 3-to-1 in a county where Republican voters are outnumbered by a ratio of almost 2-to-1.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"I knew all of this coming in," said Mr. Close, 40, a real estate salesman challenging Delegate Eileen M. Rehrmann in the Nov. 6 election. "I didn't file to lose. I expect it to be a very close race."

Mr. Close has his own equation for producing a victory:

* He must capture most of the 7,700 votes County Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher and John P. Seisman Sr. received in the Democratic primary.

* Turnout among the 45,485 registered Democrats must not go much above the 44 percent who voted in September's primary.

* The GOP must produce a much higher turnout among its 28,071 registered voters, with Mr. Close receiving almost all the votes.

4 Even fellow Republicans admit it's a tall order.

"I don't know whether he does or he doesn't have a chance," said Georgia F. Hodsdon, the county's director of administration and a fellow Republican. "I don't see much of Eileen's support eroding, and it's hard to tell how much support Geoffrey has."

Mr. Close is hoping to succeed Democrat Habern W. Freeman Jr., who must step down after two terms as county executive and who recently won the Democratic primary for state Senate.

Mr. Close's campaign strategy is twofold. He wants to paint Mrs. Rehrmann as a tool of outside interests, particularly Gov. William Donald Schaefer. And he wants to portray himself as an experienced manager, while characterizing her as a politician ill-equipped to run a government.

That is the same strategy Mrs. Risacher used when she was whipped by a 2-1 majority, but Mr. Close insists her defeat was caused more by organizational problems and political baggage than by Mrs. Rehrmann's appeal.

"I expect to reach out to a lot of Democrats who don't like outsiders telling us who should be our next county executive," said Mr. Close.

He scoffed at the size of Mrs. Rehrmann's war chest, which is expected to reach a county record of$250,000, at least $40,000 from supporters outside the county.

"That's Governor Schaefer, not the people of Harford County," said Mr. Close, who has raised $70,000.

"The majority of our money is from Harford County," Mrs. Rehrmann replied. She defended contributions from outside the county, saying that her Annapolis contacts had helped to win Harford money for such projects as new schools.

"The county Board of Realtors political action committee just gave [Mr. Close] $5,000," she added. "The issue before us is who can best manage growth, and I would think the voters would be concerned about a candidate receiving money from special interests within the county."

Mr. Close argues that he has more management experience than Mrs. Rehrmann.

Before he resigned this year to run for executive, Mr. Close spent 15 years as a Bel Air town commissioner. For the past eight years, he was commission chairman, the person who is chosen by his colleagues to run the town's day-to-day affairs and who is known informally as mayor.

Mrs. Rehrmann, 46, of Bel Air also was a town commissioner for four years before moving on to serve eight years in the House.

"Geoffrey was very hardworking, and he put a lot of time into the job," said former Commissioner June C. Weeks, who served with both Mr. Close and Mrs. Rehrmann.

During Mr. Close's tenure as chairman, the town's property tax rate stayed the same, and its business district underwent a revitalization. He also received high marks for making the public works department more efficient.

A supporter of the county's current "pay-as-you-go" policy of fiscal restraint, Mr. Close also has attacked Mrs. Rehrmann's financial platform of seeking government program grants, levying impact fees on new development and going to the bond market.

Mr. Close said Mrs. Rehrmann's fiscal policies would significantly increase the county's debt.

Mr. Close also questioned Mrs. Rehrmann's performance on the House appropriations and spending affordability committees, where she was considered a major player.

"Look at the mess the state's in now," said Mr. Close. "She wants to take credit for that?"

Mrs. Rehrmann said in reply, "I've compared my experience with Mr. Close's. His experience is limited to being a town commissioner. I've had the broad type of experience that Harford County needs for county executive. It's not a ceremonial position; it takes real leadership."

Trying to stretch every dollar, Mr. Close has waged a grass-roots campaign, going door-to-door, speaking to small groups and forums. He's picked up several volunteers in the past few weeks, many of them former Risacher supporters.

Few observers have counted Mr. Close out, if for no other reason than bloodlines.

In 1968, Mr. Close's father, Albert, was a little-known Bel Air attorney and an underdog running against incumbent Circuit Judge Howlett Coburn. Using a grass-roots approach, Mr. Close pulled off a huge upset.

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