Harford voters trying to choose between candidates in the County Council president's race might have a tough time seeing any sharp differences on where the two candidates stand on issues.
But while party officials acknowledge that seems the case, they argue there is a contrast in how each candidate would handle the job of council president.
The race is between Republican incumbent Jeffrey D. Wilson and Frederick J. Hatem, D-District F, appointed to fill a council vacancy four years ago.
This is Wilson's first run for office. He was appointed last year to replace former Council President John W. Hardwicke, who stepped down to become state administrative judge in Baltimore.
Hatem and Wilson have taken similar stands in their campaign platforms.
Both have proposals for the county's road, water and sewer problems; economic development, controlling growth and protecting the environment.
Both have strong backgrounds in volunteerism.
Hatem, 63, is a semiretired Havre de Grace obstetrician. Wilson, 35, a Street resident, is a Presbyterian minister for a church near York, Pa., and a newspaper columnist.
Republican and Democratic central committee members say what will make the difference in the next four years is how well the new council president can work with the new county executive -- either Republican Geoffrey R.
Close or Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann.
Wilson, who has been council president for nine months, says his experience in working with County Executive Habern W. Freeman would give him an edge in dealing with the next executive. Hatem argues his strength is in consensus-building on issues, and that makes him better-suited for the job.
Wilson cites his role in preparing the recently passed transfer of development rights bill as an example of how he built a consensus. The bill requires the county Planning and Zoning Department to make recommendations on setting up a program so that development rights from one piece of property could be sold and used in an area designated for growth.
Hatem, meanwhile, points to his own success preparing an amendment to the county roads bill as an example of his strengths as a consensus-builder.
"The amendment set up the amount the developer would have to pay for road improvement, based on utilization," said Hatem. "We'd had two or three similar bills that had gone no place, and this one wasn't going any place either until that amendment passed. If this race comes down to consensus-building, that's great, because that's where my strengths are."
Hatem said, if elected, he would make review of public water and sewer service needs a priority. Hatem said he would also work to encourage more economic development.
One practice Hatem would push for change is how the council disburses money for capital projects such as the recently approved $500,000 for a new animal shelter, to be leased by the Harford County Humane Society.
"Is it fiscally prudent to be spending $500,000 on the humane society building without seeing any plans?" Hatem asked. "One of the things I've pushed for in the last four years is to know what we are spending our money on."
Hatem said he would also focus on measures for environmental preservation. At present he is working on a second draft of a tree preservation bill.
Wilson's reputation as a consensus-builder and community activist is more prevalent in the northern end of the county, argues David Shrodes, chairman of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee.
Says Wilson: "There have always been three things to overcome over which I have no control: the Hatem name, the fact that he's a Democrat, and he's delivered 10,000 babies.
"But the people of Harford County have to stop voting for emotional reasons if they want better government than they've been getting."
One of the issues Wilson has been campaigning on is the need to change rules regarding county purchasing specifications.
"When we write a specification for a county project and write it in such a way that precludes a Harford County company from bidding, we have not serviced the people of Harford County well," said Wilson.
Wilson says he would also focus on environmental preservation. He recently sponsored legislation to establish a committee that would act as a liaison with the state environmental trust program.