Rehrmann, Helton may sway race

September 18, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Defeated Democrat Arthur H. Helton and County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann could play a significant -- but possibly silent -- role in the general election race between Councilwomen Theresa M. Pierno and Joanne S. Parrott for County Council president.

Mrs. Pierno, also a Democrat, handed Mr. Helton, a two-time state senator and local businessman, a bitter defeat in last Tuesday's primary.

The victory pits Mrs. Pierno, who captured 53 percent of the vote, against Mrs. Parrott, a Republican unopposed in the primary, in what promises to be an energetic race for the seat being vacated by Jeffrey D. Wilson.

Mrs. Rehrmann, the biggest primary vote-getter in Harford's Democratic Party, so far has not voiced support for Mrs. Pierno. And Mrs. Pierno, an environmentalist who campaigned in the primary on a managed-growth platform, cannot expect to automatically pick up support from Mr. Helton or his organization.

Mrs. Parrott has been quietly and independently campaigning since early spring, attending as many public events as possible. She's remaining closed-mouth about her strategy, suggesting only that she's going after broad support and running on her record.

But it is still unclear where support from key interests in the county will land in the wake of Mr. Helton's defeat.

The Havre de Grace businessman, if not pro-growth, had at least gained a reputation as developer-friendly because he opposed Mrs. Pierno, who has had her share of legislative run-ins with Harford County's developers. In some ways, Mr. Helton's

philosophy about business growth and development was more like that of Mrs. Parrott than fellow Democrat Pierno.

Mr. Helton was the unspoken favorite of Mrs. Rehrmann, whose relationship with Mrs. Pierno has grown strained during the past four years.

Vow of support disputed

Mrs. Pierno told reporters at her victory celebration that she thought she had Mr. Helton's support for the general election campaign. The two candidates had encountered each other at a local restaurant the day before the primary and informally discussed the potential outcome of the election, she said.

"He said I would have his support if I won the primary and I told him I would support the Democratic nominee," she recalled.

Mr. Helton doesn't remember the conversation that way.

"At this time, I'm hard-pressed to support either one of them," he said of the two councilwomen a day after he lost by 1,264 votes. "I don't like the position of either one."

Of Mrs. Pierno, he said: "There's more to promoting economic development in the county than rejecting every economic opportunity that comes along."

As for Mrs. Parrott, he said: "I'm not sure she goes into enough observation of what is proposed."

With the Democratic voters' choice of a strong growth-management advocate, the question also arises whether Mrs. Rehrmann will endorse her party's candidate or lend silent support to Mrs. Parrott, whose pursuit of the business vote is more in keeping with Mrs. Rehrmann's continuing emphasis on improving economic development. Mrs. Rehrmann says she's not taking sides.

"I'm not ready to endorse a candidate," she said after the primary. "I traditionally haven't done that. People have to run their own campaigns, and right now my focus is on my own campaign.

"I've always worked for the citizens," she said. "You work with the council, regardless of the party, to get things done."

Mrs. Rehrmann said she and Mrs. Pierno really "are not that far apart on the issues." She said the adequate public facilities legislation that Mrs. Pierno worked to strengthen and legislation on the purchase of development rights, designed to protect the rural landscape from overdevelopment, were initiated by the administration.

"The council has worked with the executive on both those projects," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

Tradition indicates that Harford candidates don't often run on tickets, and the results of Tuesday's election suggest that issues had more to do with voters' choices than party loyalty.

Growth still an issue

Growth management, the issue Mrs. Pierno rode to victory four years ago, clearly was still in the minds of voters Tuesday.

Mrs. Pierno said she won't change anything for the general election campaign. "I'm going to continue to focus on those issues and try to keep it away from personal issues," she said.

She believes she'll get even more "issue" voters in November, when Republicans are free to cross over and vote for her, she said.

"Between the [literature] drops and the door-to-door visits and just talking to people, we've met a lot of Republicans who say they want to help us out," Mrs. Pierno said.

The list includes some Republican candidates, too, she said, but declined to name them.

"I feel good that so many Republicans are supporting me, including Jeffrey [Wilson]." The lame-duck council president has been her mentor and strongest supporter on the council.

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