Mann overboard

September 13, 1994

Last-minute bombshells are a staple of campaign politics. Democrat Kathryn A. Mann got off a series of allegations against Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray days before today's primary. In her bid to unseat Mr. Gray for the District 4 council seat, Ms. Mann accused the incumbent of illegally using bulk mail permits to distribute campaign literature, of excessively using his county government car phone and for not attending community meetings in his East Columbia district.

It was enough to put Mr. Gray very much on the defensive on the eve of the election, which is exactly the point. Ms. Mann's allegations were strategically planned to paint Mr. Gray as "slick" and aloof from his constituents -- exaggerations that the incumbent has little time to counter.

Not that Mr. Gray hasn't left himself vulnerable to criticism. In defense of the charge that his campaign used a non-profit designation to reap deep discounts on postage for bulk mailings, Mr. Gray says a mistake was made but he doesn't know who made it. Besides, he says, he's willing to give back any money he may have saved because of the discount. That's an explanation that stretches credulity -- someone in the Gray campaign knew they were getting a discount -- but to what extent it reflects on Mr. Gray is unclear.

As for the councilman's use of a car phone provided by the county, Ms. Mann is right to point out that 44 such phones are assigned to various county workers and elected officials and that Mr. Gray is one of the more prolific users. But while she argues that Mr. Gray cannot possibly be using the phone only for council business, she hasn't produced a shred of evidence to the contrary. In fact, Ms. Mann may have done Mr. Gray a favor in pointing out that he is one of the harder working elected officials in the county -- or as he says, "My car is my office."

As for Mr. Gray's non-attendance at some community functions, Mr. Gray says he often limits himself to attending meetings where he is invited. Rarely, he says, has he received an invitation from the Long Reach Village Association, where Ms. Mann happens to be assistant village manager.

If these charges were meant to convince residents to dump Mr. Gray or to energize uncommitted voters, they don't seem capable of accomplishing either.

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