Anger over taxes aimed at Rasmussen

October 26, 1990|By Joel McCord

She's a die-hard Democrat, voted Democrat all her life, said the woman with the cigarette in her left hand and a drink on the bar. "But this time I'm voting Republican."

"We gotta get rid of Taxmussen, the way he's spending money," explained the woman, who wouldn't give her name because she said she has a "political job" in the Circuit Court clerk's office in Baltimore County.

From the York Road to Kenilworth Avenue, voters in Towson are angry about the property taxes they've paid in the last four years and the way their county government has spent the money.

And County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, running for a second term, is bearing the brunt of the blame.

Although a recent Sun Poll showed that Mr. Rasmussen had a substantial lead over Roger Hayden, his Republican opponent, it also showed that the executive's popularity has slipped considerably.

That loss of popularity shows in bumper stickers asking voters to STOP TAXMUSSEN and in interviews with two dozen voters. From the Kent Lounge on York Road to Kenilworth Park, from the Towson library to Towson Town Center, voters were nearly unanimous in their desire to oust Mr. Rasmussen.

James Cutter, who runs an insurance business in Lutherville, complained that the cost of "sprucing up the courthouse was exorbitant" -- even though he did not know how much the county spent.

The renovations included repairing a 135-year-old portico, replacing the roof, repairing cooling systems and stonework, installing an emergency sprinkler system, sandblasting the building and landscaping the surrounding park.

The bill for everything but landscaping was $927,533. The landscaping cost is hard to figure, said budget director Fred Homan, because the county supplied labor and the benches, lights, shrubs and other items were largely donated.

Mr. Rasmussen is "not for the old people, the retired people," added Jimmy Stamatos, a regular at the Kent Lounge.

Others complain of Mr. Rasmussen's style -- his immaculately coifed hair, monogrammed white shirts and ever-present double-breasted suits and the chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car uses to get around the county.

"Dennis gives the impression that he's lost his roots," said Ed Schwiegerath, who taught Mr. Rasmussen when he was a 9th-grader at Stemmer's Run Junior High School in the working class neighborhoods on the county's lower east side.

"He doesn't respond as fast as he could, or should, and he doesn't have that blue-collar look," said Mr. Schwiegerath, who was sipping coffee at a table in the lower level court of Kenilworth Park.

"He's a showboat," groused two county library employees who asked that their names not be used.

But John White, one of only two persons who defended Mr. Rasmussen, argued that he has "done a lot of good for the county."

"The way he dresses doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me," said Mr. White, who lives in a condominium near the Goucher College campus.

Mr. Rasmussen ridiculed such complaints as petty at a fund-raiser last Tuesday. He said B. Melvin Cole, the late county administrative officer, recommended the Lincoln for safety, size and a high resale value. And the monogrammed shirts are a throw-back to the days when his mother put initials in the sleeves of the shirts of the four Rasmussen boys and their father to tell them apart.

There are other races in Towson. Incumbent Councilwoman Barbara Bachur, D-4th, is being challenged by staunch conservative Douglas Riley, and Gerry Brewster is given a better than even shot at upsetting an incumbent Delegate in the 9th District.

But voters seem interested mostly in the campaign for executive and a charter amendment to cap annual property tax revenue increases at 2 percent.

The tax cap, which is expected to pass easily, is seen as a referendum on Mr. Rasmussen, who has become a lightning rod for voter anger with incumbents and sharply increased property assessments that have led to higher tax bills.

"We're tired of this taxation, and this is our chance to revolt," said Mike Linnahan, a representative for an industrial equipment firm who is a regular at the Kent Lounge.

Yet even those who say they are voting for the tax cap and against Mr. Rasmussen say they believe he will win in November.

"It's just a protest vote. I hate to do it," explained Joan Gisriel, a former schoolteacher who was sipping a soft drink at Kenilworth Park. The executive phased in a 4 percent raise for teachers at 2 percent every six months, she complained. "I didn't like that."

"It'll be close, a lot closer than people think," predicted Mr. Cutter, adding that Mr. Rasmussen would win because "because Democrats win here hands down."

Besides, Mr. Rasmussen has the money and the machine to bring out his voters, Mr. Linnahan explained.

"I'm probably going to vote Republican," he said. "And I'm going to vote for the tax cap. I don't know if it's going to work, but it's a way to vent our anger."

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