The mud is flying in the race for county executive.
Candidates Geoffrey R. Close and Eileen M. Rehrmann are airing campaign ads sharply criticizing one another and accusing the other of distorting facts.
The ads aired on cable television channels and local radio stations.
Until now, the campaigns have been marked by a genteelness on the part of both candidates, at least at public forums and debates.
"I think she's upset that she didn't get endorsed by The Sun, and has made this a very negative campaign," Close said. "Our ads weren't negative."
However, George Harrison, Rehrmann's campaign manager, dismissed the idea that the two-term state delegate was upset by Close's most recent endorsement from The Sun, noting that Rehrmann was endorsed by The Evening Sun.
Harrison argued that Close fired the first volley in the negative advertising battle two weeks ago when he began to run negative television ads criticizing Rehrmann's Annapolis experience by pointing to recent concerns about the state budget.
"We took a lot of blows from the Risacher camp (in the primary) and let them go without responding," Harrison said. "We felt we couldn't let Geoff get away with this. We did not attack Risacher, and we did not attack him (Close) first."
Two of the three television ads Close has been running in recent weeks show the 42-year-old GOP candidate seated at a desk, with a framed print of the state seal on the wall behind him. He currently holds no elected office.
In one of the ads, Close states: "My opponent wants big bond issues, impact fees and to bring us her Annapolis management style, which has driven Maryland $250 million into debt. . . . Vote to keep Harford County out of debt."
Another ad states: "Geoff's opponent wants high impact fees that will lower property values, stifle new income sources and force higher taxes."
Close also is running two similar radio commercials.
He defended the content of the commercials saying, "At the forums, she's said she's going to the bond market and to the state grants, which mean matching funds. The difference between she and I is overspending."
Rehrmann, 47, does not appear in her single television ad criticizing Close. It will air on six cable television stations through tomorrow.
In the ad, an announcer's voice criticizes Close for supporting "strip center after strip center." The voice-over also states that taxes in Bel Air rose during Close's tenure as mayor and calls the town's new parking garage "a white elephant" that was "pushed through" by Close.
Three similar radio ads were airing on seven radio stations in the Baltimore area, Harrison said.
"It's not a personal attack," he said. "But if he's going to take responsibility for everything while he was mayor, you have to look at the whole picture."
Michael Blum of Michael Blum Associates in Bel Air, the public relations company handling Close's advertising, said 60 percent of the ads Close is running focus on The Sun endorsement and on Close's experience as mayor and town commissioner in Bel Air.
"We pledged not to do slicing, bitter, divisive advertising in this campaign," he said. "We haven't done it, and we won't do it."
Rehrmann disagrees, saying Close first began negative campaigning when he issued a position paper early in the campaign.
Among the statements in the position paper is a paragraph criticizing Rehrmann for taking credit for "Bel Air's purchase of the Hoza property" for use as a park in Bel Air.
"This property could, should and would have been purchased for much less years ago -- except that the delegation stood by while the state cut Bel Air's open-space monies," Close states in the position paper.
Just a few weeks ago the county approved kicking in $190,000 needed to buy the land from the Hoza family after more than a year of negotiations.
Patrick Goles, Bel Air's mayor, has praised Rehrmann for cutting through red tape, not creating it.
"It's been like this from the beginning. Attack, attack, attack, using innuendo and distorting facts," Rehrmann said.
Said Close, "I think the whole thing is silly. It makes me think either this is a close race, or they're behind. We didn't start anything."