In 20-year Tenure, Cox Proudest Of His Constituency Work He Blames Anti-incumbency Trend For Nov. 6 Loss

November 18, 1990|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

When William H. Cox Jr. reflects on his 20 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, he says he finds satisfaction in knowing he did his best for Harford County.

Cox, often criticized as well as praised, lost his re-election bid for one of three seats in District 34 by 1,800 votes in the Nov. 6 general election.

Last week, Cox looked back on his accomplishments, both big and small -- from landing millions of dollars for new public schools in the county to helping constituents with their problems.

"I'm very proud of my record," said Cox, a 48-year-old Democrat and Bel Air resident. "No one is perfect. I'm not perfect. But I tried my very best."

Cox is a licensed real estate broker, operating Cox Real Estate Inc. in Bel Air. His company has developed a number of residential developments in the county over the years, such as Tudor Manor north of Bel Air.

Cox served 20 years in the House of Delegates, longer than any other member of the county delegation in history.

During his tenure as legislator, he rose to be the House's third-highest ranking member, serving as the majority whip. He also was vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which reviews state and local taxation measures and the financing of state programs and services, such as education.

The veteran legislator's colleagues in the Harford delegation say his defeat spells difficulty for the county because the newly elected members of the county's delegation will lack Cox's experience and name recognition, important for success in meeting Harford's needs in the General Assembly.

But Cox's critics, such as Republicans who ran against him, say it was time for the incumbent to leave office. They say the county needs fresh ideas to address the county's problems.

The chairmen of the county's Democratic and Republican central committeescite Cox's role in Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc.'s controversial asbestos and rubble fill as the main reason he lost his re-election bid.

Cox served as a guarantor for Maryland Reclamation's loan to buy a 55-acre tract near Havre de Grace for the rubble fill, which is not in his district.

Cox had stated publicly that he was Maryland Reclamation's real estate agent, but it was later revealed that he was one of the company's loan guarantors when depositions were taken in a lawsuit filed by the company against the county.

The revelation of his role in the project angered many residents, particularly those living near the proposed site for the rubble fill.

Political observers credit the strong Republican showing in the general election to the fallout over the rubble fill.

Cox maintained that he handled Maryland Reclamation the same as he would handle a client buying a house, serving as a guarantor for a loan to finance the purchase.

Cox contends that his political rivals created the rubble fill issue to oust him from office.

"That was a drummed-up issue," Cox said. "I understand how I was used."

Before the election, Cox dismissed the rubble fill as an issue in his re-election campaign, calling it "all newspaper talk."

After the election, Cox said he thinks the main reason he lost his race -- he came in fourth in a field of six -- was the anti-incumbent sentiment that swept many politicians out of office.

Cox blamed the media for putting too much attention on the rubble fill, saying he never received credit by area newspapers and county officials for the good he had done as a delegate and real estate agent.

As examples of his accomplishments, Cox pointed to his efforts to restore historic buildings like his Bel Air office and to preserve trees in his developments.

Other accomplishments Cox pointed to during his five terms in the House include:

* County schools. Cox estimates he helped get $115 million to pay for new schools, including the new middle school in Fallston and an elementary school in the Route 24 corridor subsidized this year.

* Highway construction. As chairman of the transportation subcommittee, Cox says he pushed for the state to pay for the new Interstate 95 interchanges at Route 24 and Route 543.

* Open space. Cox said he worked to convince the state to set aside some proceeds from recordation taxes for counties to protect land from development.

* Senior citizen programs. Cox said he helped obtain funding for transportation services and in-home health care programs, among others.

Despite these large-scale programs, Cox said he is most proud of his service to constituents, helping them with such problems as pensions and Medicare programs.

Few of the accomplishments, however, could have been achieved if the county delegation did not work as a team, Cox said.

"You never accomplish anything by yourself," he said. "You've got to work as a team. . . . The only way you could get ahead was by working together."

Cox's colleagues, including out-going Del. Joseph V. Lutz and out-going Sen. Catherine I. Riley, agree that Cox's efforts as a team player helped the county get money for roads and schools.

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