Old guard under siege in 12A CAMPAIGN 1994

September 08, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Since he was 7 years old, James Malone has held fast to two dreams -- to be a firefighter and to hold elected office. He realized the first ambition 19 years ago and now sees himself within striking distance of gaining elected office.

The 37-year-old fire marshal is widely considered the strongest challenger for one of two seats held by two longtime incumbents, Kenneth H. Masters and Louis P. Morsberger,in the District 12A Democratic primary on Tuesday.

His spirited challenge is just one sign that the district's XTC Democratic old guard is under siege for the first time in years.

"The incumbents appear very vulnerable," says Dennis Lanahan, one of the GOP contenders in that race. "The strong support Jimmy Malone is getting is clear evidence of that."

Also waging a tough campaign on the Democratic side is C. Richard Mencken, 50, a Baltimore County deputy sheriff. He has drawn strong support, including campaign money, from local police and firefighter groups with his get-tough talk on crime.

A fifth Democrat in the race is Paul C. Bird, 44, of whom little is known. He did not respond to a Sun questionnaire sent to candidates and did not return phone calls.

If Mr. Masters and Mr. Morsberger survive the primary battle, they will have to defend their seats in the conservative, heavily Democratic district from the strongest GOP challenge in more than a decade.

All of the Republican candidates have mounted serious campaigns. They have tried to distinguish themselves from one another by stressing their work experience and education, and they have feuded over public funding for abortion.

Running for the Republican nomination are Mr. Lanahan, 45, a systems analyst with Litton Systems, a defense contractor; Don Drehoff, 34, a department manager with MCI; Martin Manescu, 29, general manager of a family-owned janitorial supply company; and Donald E. Murphy, 34, a leasing agent for the Meadows Business Park near Security Square.

Of the GOP candidates, only Mr. Lanahan has run for office before. He made an unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat in 1990.

In the Democratic primary, however, "this is really a race of the three 'M's,' " says Kevin Kamenentz, chairman of the Baltimore County Central Committee, referring to Mr. Malone and to the two incumbents seeking re-election. The central committee chairman sees Mr. Mencken as a potential spoiler, taking crucial votes from the incumbents.

The four top Democratic candidates don't differ widely on this year's top election issues -- crime, education, welfare reform and job creation -- Mr. Kamenentz said. Although they disagree on the specifics, the Democrats all favor tougher restrictions on parole, welfare benefit reforms and more state aid for the county's public schools.

"So where the race boils down to is who has the better name recognition," Mr. Kamenentz said.

This year's District 12A primary stands in stark contrast to the 1990 race, when Mr. Masters, now is seeking his fifth four-year term, and Mr. Morsberger, seeking his sixth term, faced weak challengers. Also, there was no GOP opposition in the general election that year.

Another twist: The district's boundaries were revised in 1990 to include 5,862 voters from the Elkridge and Jessup areas of Howard County. The Randallstown, Woodlawn and Oella areas of western Baltimore County were shifted into a different district.

Despite redistricting, District 12A remains a Democratic stronghold: Two of three of its voters are registered Democrats.

For the most part, Howard County voters in the new district mirror voters in the district's strongholds of Arbutus and Catonsville, both economically and socially. They are largely white and politically moderate to conservative, and most are middle-class.

The 2,686 Democrats who have entered the district from Howard County also have little allegiance to any of the candidates on the basis of name recognition.

But in Baltimore County, home to more than 80 percent of the district's voters and to all of the candidates from both parties, name recognition and incumbency are the main factors in this year's campaign.

County central committee members familiar with the district's Democratic primary say Mr. Malone's strongest edge is his family's broad name recognition in the Arbutus and Catonsville areas. His father, Ned Malone, was Baltimore County sheriff for six years and is still a popular figure on the family's home turf, Arbutus.

In an effort to beat back Mr. Malone's spirited challenge and a potential dark horse upset by Mr. Mencken, the incumbents are running on a ticket together and have campaigned together door-to-door.

They also have called in support from such Annapolis heavyweights as Casper R. Taylor, the speaker of the House, and have hammered away at their challengers' lack of experience in elected office. None of the challengers has held or run for office.

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