Clinton stance on education called critical for Harford votes

July 19, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Even before Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had secured the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday, Maryland delegates attending the New York convention were busy planning the best way to sell their candidate's message in communities like Harford County.

In Harford's case and most other suburban areas, the sales pitch deemed most likely to appeal to voters will focus on Mr. Clinton's stance on education and the environment, say county party leaders.

"In any political campaign in Harford that I've seen, education is a critical factor," said state Del. Donald C. Fry, D-District 35A, who was one of the Maryland Democratic convention delegates pledged to Mr. Clinton. Mr. Fry was among six Harford countians, including several alternate delegates, to attend the national convention.

"Harford has traditionally had an outstanding education system, but it doesn't necessarily spend as much as other areas," Mr. Fry said. "With more and more families moving out of the city, it's the opportunity to grow and advance that has always made Harford attractive."

Mr. Fry said he believes that Mr. Clinton's support of community colleges and apprenticeship programs -- where schools offer job-specific training to residents who are not enrolled in four-year degree programs -- should go over well in Harford, where Harford Community College plans to start such a program.

David S. Shrodes, chairman of Harford's Democratic Central Committee, said in a telephone interview from his Bel Air home that the addition of Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore to the presidential ticket also should attract Harford voters, in part because of Mr. Gore's recently released book discussing environmental issues.

"In the last election in Harford, a lot of people involved in the environmental movement, or with a no-growth philosophy, were swept into office no matter whether they were a Republican or a Democrat," said Mr. Shrodes.

As an example, he referred to the election of first-time County Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, perhaps best known for legislation she co-sponsored to protect trees.

A Clinton-Gore ticket also may appeal to Harford voters geographically, said Mr. Shrodes.

"It's an ideal ticket for Harford because Maryland is a border state," said Mr. Shrodes. "With new people moving into Harford's development envelope, most are moving north from more southern areas of Maryland. Mr. Clinton's scheduled campaign stop [yesterday] in nearby York, Pa., is a good choice."

Harford Republican leaders, however, said the Democratic platform doesn't hold the answers to the environmental or educational problems now facing county voters.

"Al Gore never met a piece of environmental legislation he didn't like," said Michael Davall, chairman of Harford's Republican Central Committee, in a printed statement.

Mr. Davall also called the Clinton-Gore approach "the liberal Democrats' three-step cure for any problem -- tax, spend and legislate. We need look no further than our state capital in Annapolis for proof this does not work.

"Democrats ask us to trust them on education, when we've been allowing Democratic-controlled legislatures and liberal think-tanks to run our education system for the past 30 years. It's time for the citizens to take their school systems back from the bureaucrats."

But the political experts admit that despite Democrats' and Republicans' best efforts, Harford voters will probably continue to cast the wild card in Maryland's November presidential election.

For example, in the spring primary, Harford Democrats who voted chose former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (8,233 votes) over Mr. Clinton (6,237), county Board of Elections records show.

"Harford voters are very independent-minded. They're not particularly partisan, and that may be what makes the Democratic ticket attractive," said Mr. Fry.

"But a Democratic presidential candidate has not carried Harford County since 1964 when Lyndon Johnson was elected, despite the fact that many state and local officials have been Democrats."

Capital budget highlights

Highlights of the estimated $19 million 1993-1994 capital budget approved by the school board (listed in order of the board's priorities):

* Furniture and equipment for the Riverside-area elementary school (scheduled to open in 1993): $150,000.

* Six relocatable classrooms and relocation of eight others: $640,000.

* Construction, furniture and equipment for a 600-student elementary school in Bel Air (scheduled to open in 1994): $2.4 million.

* Construction of a 300-student Bel Air Middle School addition: $1.4 million.

* Planning money for a 600-student elementary school in Forest Lake: $350,000.

* Planning money for a 300-student addition and new gym at C. Milton Wright High School: $250,000.

* New roofs: $2.3 million (some of which may be spent this year).

* Modifications to make five schools accessible to the handicapped: $1.8 million.

* Environmental-compliance projects: $500,000.

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