The Lion was roaring the applause was polite

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

The Lion of Halethorpe wasted no time in distinguishing himself from three other Democratic candidates for Baltimore County executive at a candidates forum near Pikesville. But John Carroll Coolahan never was one to blend in with the crowd.

Natty in a light blue cord suit in the stifling heat in the Summit Park Elementary School cafetorium, he contrasted with his two male opponents, clad in traditional dark suits.

And, in quick-time, Mr. Coolahan told the audience that the Baltimore City government and The Sun want regional government to bail out the city, that he never would approve public money for a new cultural arts theater in nearby Pikesville and that "citizens sometimes don't want all the services foisted on them" by public officials.

The former state senator and recently retired District Court judge joined Councilman Melvin G. Mintz of Pikesville, Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III of Cockeysville and state Sen. Nancy L. Murphy of Catonsville at the Smith-Greenspring Association event.

All the candidates called for more "cops on the street," more economic development and more new and repaired school

buildings. And none had anything good to say about the administration of Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden. But the fewer than 50 voters who braved the heat got a full dose of the gravel-voiced candor that has become a trademark of the former Marine sergeant.

Despite Mr. Coolahan's challenging remarks, the audience reacted with polite applause, as it did for each of the candidates.

Responding to a question about the $500,000 in state matching money approved this year to help pay for transformation of the old Pikes Theatre on Reisterstown Road into a performing arts center, Mr. Coolahan didn't hesitate.

He said that in no way does he favor such "private perks" as the theater received.

He said he supports revitalization and spending on public needs such as roads, sewers, sidewalks and lights. But in case anyone was confused about how he felt about the Pikes, he added that if it becomes an arts center, it will run a 35 percent operating deficit and is "duplicative," since the Jewish Community Center in nearby Owings Mills is building a privately endowed performing arts theater.

Asked about the need for regional cooperation, something of which all the other candidates approved, Mr. Coolahan turned on the steam.

"Cooperation is a farce," he said. "Baltimore City and The Sun don't want regional cooperation, they want regional government."

Rolling now, he followed with an attack on the city, which he said refuses to cut its bloated bureaucracy even as it "gives away its government functions" to the state. "The city wants our tax base," he said, warning that the recent redistricting that brought city legislative districts across the county line in several places is a prelude to regional government. "Baltimore County got raped on redistricting," he declared.

Mr. Coolahan told the crowd in closing that, while all the candidates eagerly share the "good things" about themselves "we all have warts, too."

"See if our record and rhetoric are the same," he said. "Make us take a stand."

As the candidates and their entourages filed outside afterward, a tall man approached Mr. Coolahan and extended his hand. "I appreciated your candor, John," the man said.

"But you're not going to vote for me, are you?" a smiling Mr. Coolahan said in reply to Charles Albert "Al" Ruppersberger, his opponent's father.

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