Faces changing on Baltimore County political scene

June 16, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Anyone who doubts that politics is changing in Baltimore County need only consider two prominent new candidates for two County Council seats.

One is a northern county career firefighter and bureaucrat who now wants to make policy instead of execute it, and the other is a liquor store owner from Catonsville who has worked for Republicans but is running as a Democrat.

Neither candidate fits the traditional lawyer-politician mold in county politics.

Elwood H. "Woody" Banister, 59, a career firefighter with 38 years of service who recently retired as county fire chief, has decided to run as a Democrat for the northern county 3rd District seat being vacated by Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who is a county executive candidate.

George Abendschoen, 59, a Democrat who lost a bid for Catonsville's 1st District seat in 1990 and has worked for Republicans since, plans to try again for his party's nomination. Mr. Abendschoen said he soon will resign his staff job with the Republican administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

The county's political domination by Democrats, often led by Eastside leaders, was smashed in 1990, when voters threw out Dennis F. Rasmussen, an Essex Democrat, and five Democratic council members. The revolt gave the county a Republican executive for the first time since Spiro T. Agnew won in 1962 and three Republican council members.

If Mr. Abendschoen wins the Sept. 13 primary, he likely will face Republican incumbent Berchie Lee Manley, 65, whom he worked for in the 1990 general election before going to work for Mr. Hayden.

"I think people are looking for candidates who know what needs to be done today," Mr. Abendschoen said. "People aren't looking for Democrats or Republicans."

In any case, Mr. Abendschoen is in an awkward political position. Most Democrats this year are criticizing Hayden budget cuts that resulted in laid-off county workers, closed libraries, health centers and senior centers and reduced strengths at the police and fire departments.

One of Mr. Abendschoen's opponents in the primary, Stephen G. "Sam" Moxley, 34, a Catonsville lawyer and veteran party central committee member, emphasizes just those points in his campaign.

But as a Hayden staff member, Mr. Abendschoen defended the cuts and layoffs as necessary and good for the county in the long run. He said Mr. Moxley lacks experience.

Mr. Abendschoen said he wants more jobs for Catonsville, Arbutus, Baltimore Highlands and Lansdowne and more opportunities for small-business owners. And he wants to politically unify the district to capture capital improvement money for older, urbanized neighborhoods.

He criticized Mrs. Manley's consistent, often lonely, opposition to spending for any new development, even large projects with huge economic impacts, such as the federal Health Care Financing Administration relocation in Woodlawn and a research park on the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus.

Mr. Abendschoen, who lost the 1990 Democratic primary to 12-year incumbent Ronald B. Hickernell by only 470 votes, insisted that he worked for Mrs. Manley's election in the belief she would serve one four-year term and then retire.

Mrs. Manley denied ever having promised that.

Mr. Banister, of Phoenix, retired in April after 3 1/2 years as fire chief. As a candidate who has never held public office but is familiar with local government, Mr. Banister is seen by some as attractive to voters tired of the lawyer-politician candidate.

"I feel my integrity has always been the highest," Mr. Banister said. "I've always had an interest in politics. I'm too young to retire."

Mr. Banister said he has learned how to draft and pass legislation, how to make budgets and stick to them, and how to deal with community groups. He said he realizes that public safety isn't the only important issue and can address others.

His opponent in the primary is I. William Chase, 45, who exemplifies the traditional candidate background. An attorney and former planning board member, Mr. Chase has been campaigning for months.

"I'm in the groove; he's not," he said of Mr. Banister. "His background is the Fire Department. He can't respond to economic development, education or other issues."

Despite Mr. Banister's longtime connection with the Fire Department, the county firefighters' union plans to support Mr. Chase, said Kevin B. O'Connor, president of Local 1311. Mr. O'Connor said his group felt Mr. Banister is "very autocratic . . . he's very inflexible."

Republican candidates so far in the 3rd District include Edward W. Veit, 58, of Parkton, former president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County; Christian E. Cavey, 38, an Upperco insurance broker; and Patrick D. Meadowcroft, 55, of Parkton, a retired owner of three northern county service stations.

In the 1st District, Mrs. Manley is opposed by Paul S. Knipe, 30, an Arbutus martial arts instructor and former Marine.

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