HAMPSTEAD — As a man who relishes the opportunity to have a say in his small town's government, mayoral candidate C. Clinton Becker is wondering why more of his neighbors don't feel the same way.
The town either hasa serious case of apathy, said councilman Gary W. Bauer, or people are pretty happy with what's going on.
No one is challenging Becker, a councilman, in his bid for mayor in the May 14 election. Arthur H. Moler and Bauer also face no opposition to keep their seats on the Town Council.
And officials are scanning the town for people to fill vacancies on boards.
"We even got a notice in our water bill they were looking for a mayor -- like Hooterville," said Lisa Abel, 29, of Gaming Square.
The young mother said she cares about the town and is concerned about its growth butis too busy with young children to go to council and commission meetings.
Abel and her husband are registered to vote in their first Hampstead election. They moved here two years ago from Ellicott City and have a baby and a preschooler.
Like many of their neighbors, though, they want to preserve their evenings for family instead of townmeetings.
"For now, that's just not a part of my life," Abel said. "Now, my first priority is my kids."
Most people assume Becker will be the next mayor whether or not they cast a vote for him.
Becker isn't counting his chickens yet. At public gatherings, such as a meet-the-candidates night last week, he reminds people that a write-in challenger could come out of nowhere.
"Some individual with about three dozen friends could walk in and be mayor," Becker said.
But, as business owner and one-time council candidate Jacqueline Hyatt told Becker, it may be hard to get three dozen people to vote at all.The town averages about 100 voters per election.
The recent threefold increase in registered voters could have made for a lively election this year. Until two years ago, the town had about 300 registeredvoters. Now, it has about 1,000, said Town Manager John A. Riley.
Under a state law passed two years ago, anyone registered to vote incounty elections is automatically registered in his or her municipality. Formerly, residents had to register separately to vote in town elections, and some never got around to it, Riley said.
Riley won'tguess whether the increase in registered voters will make up for thelack of challengers and spur people to cast a ballot.
And he saidhe didn't know what the town would have done if no one filed for anyof the open seats. The charter has no provision for an election withno candidates.
Town leaders probably could have talked someone into running, as Councilman William S. Pearson once did several years ago. In that case, Pearson said, he encouraged someone to challenge a man running unopposed.
If Becker wins the mayoral race, the council must appoint a new member to fill the remaining two years in his term. The Planning and Zoning Commission has had a vacant seat for morethan a year.
And the latest gadflies at town meetings don't even live in the town limits -- they live in the unincorporated areas nearproposed developments.
The council has made no secret of its search for candidates. During a public meeting, Mayor Richard E. Miller asked Hyatt, who owns Hyatt's Animal Boutique, to consider applying for any of the vacant positions.
"I think I would," Hyatt said last week. She said she didn't run this year because she expected the race would draw many candidates from among the town's newcomers.
"A young parent today is busy running to ball games, running to dance classes. But I really think they're interested," Hyatt said.