Gilchrest gets around his new turf Environment stand plays in Arundel

February 08, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

He's a Republican from the rural Eastern Shore representing a section of the urbanized Western Shore with 18,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

But to his new constituents in Anne Arundel County, such minor flaws in Wayne T. Gilchrest pale next to their own wish lists.

"The bottom line was, when push comes to shove, I'd go with the person who is most effective on the environment," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition who has been active in the county Democratic Party.

"For me, it doesn't make a difference," she said.

She wants to be sure he will roll up his shirtsleeves for environmental issues. That he already has done so in the case of the old Army depot on Ordnance Road that contains radioactive material has won Mr. Gilchrest praise from Ms. Rosso as well as from County Executive Robert R. Neall, who wants to build a new jail there.

Mr. Gilchrest got a pledge last week from the Defense Logistics Agency that within six weeks that federal bureau will have a plan to clean up the land.

Mr. Gilchrest, who defeated Tom McMillen for the 1st District congressional seat in November, two years after he unseated Roy Dyson in the 4th District, wonders when "people are going to vote for you instead of just against someone else."

Now, he is making the rounds on the Western Shore, hoping to give his new constituents a reason to vote for him two years from now.

And that sits well with many of them, such as Alfred Lucarelli, a registered Democrat from Glen Burnie. He voted against Mr. McMillen, but wasn't sure why he cast a ballot for Mr. Gilchrest.

"You have to give other people a break in life," said Mr. Lucarelli, who met the congressman at last week's town meeting in Glen Burnie. "He is in, and we have to work together as a team. . . . You have to give somebody the benefit of the doubt."

The newly redrawn 1st District cuts a C-shape through central and northern Anne Arundel County, a county that has been split among four congressional districts.

In his visits to his Anne Arundel constituents, Mr. Gilchrest is pointing to issues common to both shores.

"If you talk to people anywhere in the district, they all want the same things," he says. He points to jobs, health care, safety, a cleaner environment, a better economy.

"When it comes to the issues, I haven't noticed any appreciable differences."

Legislation he is working on would benefit both shores, Mr. Gilchrest notes. He would like to see counties get the authority to ban out-of-state trash from private landfills and is working with a Virginia Democrat and a Michigan Republican on that measure. He'd like to see more federal Superfund money applied to local toxic waste cleanups.

Mr. Gilchrest says he wants to see tax incentives for companies to retool existing manufacturing plants and diversify in the wake of Defense Department cuts as one way to create and keep jobs.

That would affect the Westinghouse Corp., which has plants near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as well as the Grumman Corp. in Salisbury and Airpax in Cambridge, contractors that took heavy blows.

On the Western Shore, Mr. Gilchrest, a former Kent County history teacher, has taken up the fight to clean up the Ordnance Road site and met with North County residents angered by noise from BWI.

He's been meeting with community groups -- many in the more Republican areas -- and is holding town meetings, including one tonight at Annapolis High School.

His low-key personality makes him sound as if he's talking to a neighbor over the back fence. That casual manner will serve the congressman well with voters in his new turf, Mr. Neall said. But it belies the time Mr. Gilchrest spends looking out for his constituents' interests and his political acumen, he added.

On Capitol Hill, for example, other Republican congressmen stop by Mr. Gilchrest's office to hear the slick radio ad that political observers say cost Mr. McMillen the election: It accused him of taking 33 trips in two years paid for by special interests, while Mr. Gilchrest went to Ocean City only once.

Despite his intensely partisan campaign, Mr. Gilchrest has pledged to work with local elected officials, most of them Democrats, and with the other three congressmen, all Democrats, who represent the other parts of Anne Arundel County.

Elected officials in the county say what they need most from the congressman is constituent service and a working relationship. And the Democrats complain they have yet to meet with him.

While Mr. Gilchrest has kept in close contact with Mr. Neall about the Ordnance Road land, state Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-31st, whose district includes that property, says he has yet to hear anything about it directly from the congressman's office.

"I don't want to be shut out," said Mr. Jimeno, whose district also includes many creeks and wetlands that fall under federal environmental mandates. "We need to open lines of communication."

In the interim, he said he is taking constituent concerns to Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski.

Even state Sen. John A. Cade, a 33rd District Republican, says though he knows Mr. Gilchrest, he has not met with him either.

Mr. Gilchrest assumed office just as the legislature got under way last month, making for bad timing to set up a group meeting, said Mr. Jimeno, who heads the county's Senate delegation.

Mr. Gilchrest said he hopes to meet soon with the full Anne Arundel delegation. An invitation to do that is being extended to him.

But state Sen. Michael Wagner, a 32nd District Democrat, says he expects to work largely through Democratic elected officials.

"I can't see having a working relationship with him like I had with Tom [McMillen]," Mr. Wagner said.

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