Many Catonsville voters are undecided even now Volatile contest spawns confusion

November 01, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

While others may fret over their choices in this year's race fo president, Greg Philipowitz heads for Election Day with the determination of a prodigal son in sight of home.

A salesman at Leo Amster's Tuxedo and Formal Wear Shop in Catonsville, Mr. Philipowitz is a born-again Democrat. He voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and for George Bush in 1988. But the GOP and the president lost Mr. Philipowitz, 39, with their tardy recognition of the recession and its toll.

More precisely, he blames them for the decline of the six-tuxedo wedding.

It was during the Bush administration, he says, when wedding planners began to cut costs by limiting formal wear to the groom and his best man.

Like corporations, weddings during recessions are "leaner and meaner," he says. And, after 12 years of Reaganomics, "the bigger wedding parties are way, way down."

Mr. Philipowitz has made up his mind to vote for Gov. Bill Clinton, saying the Arkansas Democrat is more moderate, less beholden to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition and less of a tax-and-spend liberal than were his Democratic predecessors.

But many others in this suburb of 35,233 are still struggling to resolve conflicts about their choices or expressing disgust over the election process.

Some are confused by this year's ever-changing race -- first a three-way, then a two-way and finally a three-way contest again including independent Ross Perot.

A slumping economy, the end of the Cold War, negative campaigning, and the opportunity for generational change in national leadership also contribute to the voters' indecision.

By registration, voters in this sprawling community of split-level and grand Victorian houses are Democrats, 2-to-1. But they have chosen Republicans at the presidential level for the last 16 years.

Reagan Democrats

Their decisions in the race for president this year draw more attention because so many of them, like Greg Philipowitz, are Reagan-Bush Democrats.

Catonsville itself is representative of the nation's suburbs which, for the first time, will yield a majority of the votes cast in this election.

Catonsville voters have been notably discriminating during the last decade. While choosing Republicans for president, they have backed gun control, opposed a cap on county income taxes and helped elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate and the state legislature.

Their deliberations this fall are made more intense by a visible struggle over Question 6, the abortion initiative.

Many a Catonsville lawn turned golden by fallen leaves is accented by the blue and white signs of those who favor the law or by the red "X" of those who oppose it.

The law would keep most abortions legal in Maryland even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade.

The decision-making this year goes on in the usual places: at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Frederick Road, around the kitchen table, and over soft crabs at Jennings Cafe.

With about 48 hours remaining before decision time, many voters of this battleground suburb are still searching for the decisive bit of information or insight.

"Why didn't Ross Perot pick Walter Cronkite for his vice president?" asks Wendy Enelow, who owns a resume-preparation business.

"I'd vote for him in a minute." Beyond that fanciful view, she wavers: "I'm Bush. I'm Clinton. I'm Bush."

"I want so much to vote for Clinton, I'm a soul of the '60s. He's a Democrat, and he has that social conscience," she says.

But then she asks herself, what about his lack of experience in foreign affairs?

"I'll probably decide when I walk into the voting booth," she says.

"If I wasn't so mad at Ross Perot for quitting, I'd have to vote for him," says Joe Chilcoat, who owns four 7-Eleven stores in and around Catonsville.

Shelly Warsaw, manager of a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, reads The Sun, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post every day. He remains a leaner, almost as undecided as Ms. Enelow.

From his office on Route 40 he sees a panoply of failed businesses: a Hardee's, a Lincoln Mercury dealership, a Mr. Tire, a bank branch and a medical building.

His own business is an island of relative prosperity.

Mr. Warsaw is doing better than he did last year; yet he is not free of the anxiety that seems to grip almost everyone.

"I will probably end up going into the voting booth and pulling down the Bush lever," he says.

"I'm a registered Democrat who has not voted for a Democrat since 1976. My family is all supporting Clinton, but I don't know. I'm looking for someone to snag on to me and help me make my decision."

He is intrigued by the business world endorsements Mr. Clinton has won. "He's got a lot of powerful people behind him. I want my business to get better. Do I have a better shot with Clinton?"

For him, the task is to weigh the uncertainties against the possibilities.

"He's our option"

Dot Gary, 67, wonders how anyone can be undecided.

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