GOP candidates prefer Gray as Nov. opponent

September 11, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The two Republicans seeking to run for the east Columbia seat on the County Council in November are hoping County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray will beat Democrat Kathryn Mann in Tuesday's primary -- but not by much.

"If she wins, I think the Democrats will get behind her," said Republican Gary Prestianni. "If she loses, I hope it's by 10 votes. That would be a sign that the Democrats are dissatisfied with Vernon and could vote Republican or stay home in the general election."

Whoever wins the Republican primary, Mr. Prestianni or Evelyn L. Tanner, vice chairman of the county Board of Appeals, will need help from Democratic voters to win in November.

Registration for the council race in the 2nd District is so overwhelmingly Democratic -- almost 2 to 1 -- that no Republican filed against Mr. Gray in 1990. Democratic registrations outnumber those of Republicans and independents combined by 2,000.

Ms. Tanner said the fact that Mr. Gray had no opposition in 1990 and that he has been on the council for 12 years makes him vulnerable.

"The voters need a change," she said. "As I go door to door, people tell me they are pleased to be given a serious contender. People are glad that at least now they have a choice."

Mr. Prestianni, like Ms. Tanner a former Democrat, agrees. "Any agenda he's had, he's had a chance to do," Mr. Prestianni says. "It's time to move on to someone else."

Each is confident of winning the nomination.

"Lately, every house I go to says they are going to back me," said Mr. Prestianni, a master electrician who got interested in running for office after the county threatened to widen Mission Road in his neighborhood. He also was unhappy because the County Council had begun holding some of its comprehensive zoning hearings in the daytime, making it difficult for working people like him to attend, he said.

Mr. Prestianni said county government is out of touch with the concerns of most residents, something he wants to change. "Constituent service is No. 1," he said, "finding out what's on people's minds."

He said that if elected, he or an aide would attend every neighborhood meeting in his district. He also wants council members sitting as the Zoning Board to visit every site for which a zoning change is sought. "How can you legislate [zoning matters] when you haven't seen the property?" he said.

Mr. Prestianni said there should be more interaction between the council and the executive. He said disagreement over the county's smoking ordinance -- which was vetoed twice by the county executive before becoming law -- "could have been settled in a two-hour conference. They all work in the same building. What's so hard about getting together?"

Other goals, he said, are to bring new businesses to a revitalized U.S. 1 and to provide air time on the county government cable channel to candidates who agree to limit campaign spending to less than $5,000.

Ms. Tanner, a former social worker who is now an attorney and self-employed consultant on government contracts, says she wants to increase recycling, deal comprehensively with garbage disposal, address east Columbia's crime problems, and work to eliminate "the many dangerous conditions" on Route 175.

Part of her campaign strategy has been to write articles on zoning, crime and waste management for local newsletters.

"People are very responsive" to her and her campaign, she says. "What really distinguishes me, is that I have both government and business experience. I have been on both sides of that fence," she said. Ms. Mann, who is a member of the local Democratic Central Committee, is another who sees Mr. Gray as beatable.

Neighborhood crime has increased, traffic problems have worsened, and neighborhood schools have gotten poorer in the eight years that Mr. Gray has represented the district, she said.

During that time, the county made "some halfhearted steps" to ** deal with those problems, but much more needs to be done, she said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Mann has stung Mr. Gray with accusations of political indiscretion. After she revealed that he still owed Laurel Raceway $8,000 for a fund-raiser there six years ago and that he and other council members were about to vote on a zoning matter involving the raceway, the council dropped the matter and Mr. Gray began paying what he said was a disputed debt.

As recently as last week, Ms. Mann accused the Gray campaign of illegally using a nonprofit bulk mailing permit -- something Mr. Gray said happened accidentally and was being corrected. Ms. Mann also chided Mr. Gray for running up a car phone bill amounting to 20 percent of all car phone use in county government over the past year.

Mr. Gray says Ms. Mann is waging "a negative campaign" against him because "she has no programs, no proposals for basic services to people."

Mr. Gray seems mystified that a member of the local Democratic Central Committee, much less Republicans in a heavily Democratic district, perceive him as a weak candidate.

He campaigns "as a lifelong Democrat who is a strong believer in Democratic principles" and says that he, more than any other council member, has been "an access point for the homeless, the jobless, those who need a place to live and those who have difficulty with the police."

His record for constituent service -- "helping people negotiate the county bureaucracy" -- and legislative accomplishments such as his sponsorship of the toughest public smoking ban on the East Coast and his bill forbidding trailer park owners to retroactively collect security deposits from tenants, exceed that of any other council member, he believes.

He says that there are still things left for him to do in a fourth term, such as maintaining pressure on the school system to make sure older schools have as much modern equipment as new ones, and conducting a review of county procedures to eliminate "unnecessary regulations."

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