Rasmussen loss echoes earlier voting patterns

November 08, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

A review of individual precinct returns in voters' crushing rejection of incumbent Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen suggests that perhaps more than an anti-incumbent movement was at work Election Day.

In many areas, the voting repeated patterns seen decades before in the county, when voters rebelled against the policies and ideas of liberal office-holders of both parties in favor of a conservative, nuts-and-bolts style of government.

Rasmussen, a liberal, progressive eastside Democrat who beat strong primary opposition in 1986, lost nearly every precinct Tuesday by majorities of 2-1 and 3-1. He won in the liberal black and Jewish precincts.

At the voting precinct at Dundalk Middle School, for example, Republican winner Roger B. Hayden defeated Rasmussen 1,048-460.

It was a pattern repeated all over Dundalk, except for Turners Station, an historic black enclave where Rasmussen defeated Hayden 565-117.

Similarly in Catonsville, where Rasmussen again lost almost every precinct, the historic black community which votes at the Banneker Community Center went for the incumbent 520-336. In nearby Arbutus, Hayden won 659-525.

Both Dundalk and Catonsville-Arbutus are traditionally Democratic strongholds.

In predominantly Jewish precincts in Pikesville, Rasmussen also won big. For example, at the precinct at Summit Park Elementary off Greenspring Avenue the tally was 1,260-762; at Fort Garrison Elementary, farther west, it was 1,241-628.

Rasmussen lost by huge margins elsewhere, though, including his home precinct in Kingsville, where Hayden outpolled him 1,041-541. The tally at the precinct at Essex Elementary, where Rasmussen's extended family votes, the challenger won 322-223.

The huge margins of defeat were even more pronounced in the north and central parts of the county.

The theme of liberal vs. conservative may also have been responsible for the only bond issue that was defeated. It would have authorized the county to issue $2.6 million in bonds mostly to help finance affordable housing projects. That is an old political hot potato because of the fears of conservative whites that liberal officeholders will use low income housing to encourage the migration of poor city blacks to the county.

The housing issue first arose in 1964 when Republican County Executive Spiro T. Agnew tried to get urban renewal powers for county government only to face a strong backlash from residents worried about government-financed housing projects for the poor.

Elected county executive in 1962, Agnew was considered a liberal when he proposed gun-control legislation, an end to pinball machines and tax reform. When he ran for governor in 1966, Agnew lost the county to George P. Mahoney, a conservative Democrat. Dale Anderson, another conservative eastside Democrat, won the county executive race that year.

In 1978, the liberal vs. conservative them reappeared as Democratic County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis lost the county in his bid for the gubernatorial nomination, winning only 18 percent of the vote. Conservative Democrat Donald P. Hutchinson, who won the county executive race, is the only one to serve two consecutive terms in office.

Venetoulis won office as a fresh-faced reformer after several years of political scandals that saw Anderson sentenced to federal prison and Agnew, then vice president, implicated in kickback schemes and forced to resign from office.

Venetoulis, now a television commentator, said yesterday that he thinks county voters merely resented his try for higher office in 1978 after only one term as executive, but other political observers at the time felt he would have failed in a bid for re-election.

The similarities between 1978 and 1990 extend even to minor peculiarities. Venetoulis was roundly criticized at the time for spending $3,000 in county funds to put a shower in his office. Rasmussen was falsely rumored to have installed a Jacuzzi or steam room in his remodeled office.

And political imagery is as strong now as then. When Hutchinson took office in 1978, he made a conscious effort to change the symbols of office, as Hayden has promised to do, by using a smaller car, doing most of the driving himself and dispensing with a large public information office that many had charged was used to promote Venetoulis and not county government.

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