Growth is seen as top election issue

July 03, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

The more issues change, the more they stay the same.

That's how Bob Adams of Chesterfield sees it.

Crime and education may have registered on public opinion polls as the most important concerns in the minds of Anne Arundel County voters this year, but Mr. Adams says all the problems stem from growth.

"My personal view is, the overcrowding and overgrowth, people packed too densely together, it affects both [crime and education]," said Mr. Adams, vice president of his community association.

Growth concerns, such as traffic congestion and classroom overcrowding, dominated county politics in the 1980s. But their resonance with voters appeared to wane in 1990 when Robert R. Neall, a fiscal conservative with shaky environmental credentials, won the county executive's job.

Today, voters rarely use the word "growth" when they talk about their concerns. But the issues most on their minds are symptoms of a growing, changing county.

A poll conducted last winter for the county government found crime and education had outstripped taxes, the dominant issue in 1992, as residents' greatest worry. About 28 percent mentioned crime and education as their top concerns, while only 12 percent cited taxes and government spending.

"It was 'the economy, stupid' in '92, and I guess 'it's crime, stupid' now," said Dan Nataf, a Severna Park resident and a professor of political science at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

What residents want done about crime or education is less clear, leaving candidates groping for solutions that will capture imaginations and votes.

"Most candidates will tell you the same thing," said Joan Beck, an Annapolis resident and candidate for the state House of Delegates in District 30. "The voters want us to be harder on criminals. They want longer sentences. They don't like plea bargains, and they are tired of revolving-door justice."

State House candidates say a key difference among them will be their plans to pay for the new prisons needed to keep criminals off the streets longer.

Clifton Prince, a resident of the Cedar and Morris Hill community, said he will be looking for county council and executive candidates who would increase the size of the police force.

"The police are probably doing as much as they can with the limited resources they have," said Mr. Prince, principal of Arundel Middle School in Odenton.

Education could emerge this summer as a bigger concern than crime. Residents appear particularly interested in school redistricting and in spending more time and resources on classrooms than administrative offices.

"I'm very concerned as a parent that class sizes have become too large and that teachers aren't getting the respect and administrative backup that they need," said Sheila LoCastro, an Arnold mother.

Brian Brooks, a Pasadena resident and a Republican delegate candidate in District 31, said he believed the case of Ronald W. Price, the former Northeast High School social studies teacher convicted of child sex abuse charges, also has shaken the community's confidence in the school board.

To make the board more accountable, some parents and candidates have suggested that board members should be elected rather than appointed by the governor. Others say the County Council and executive, who control the purse strings, must provide more teachers and instructional material.

Polls also confirm Mr. Adams' belief that growth and development remain a concern of many residents, particularly when it is related to schools. The county's poll shows growth tied with taxes after crime and education.

Mary Rosso, a Glen Burnie resident and member of an environmental political action committee, said environmental groups will be looking for candidates committed to clamping down on waivers to the county's adequate facilities ordinance.

How the county disposes of residents' trash should be an issue, Mr. Prince said, but he is not optimistic. Except on Earth Day, people in his community think little about the environment, he said.

"As big as recycling should be, I don't believe we are doing our fair share . . . to cut down on how much goes into the landfill," Mr. Prince said.

Meanwhile, John Klocko of Crofton, a Republican candidate for County Council, said that while candidates should address the issues, it is unrealistic to try to extract specific promises. After all, he said, they have only a vague idea what circumstances will be a year from now.

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