I spy a council seat

September 22, 1994

Serving on the Baltimore County Council must be one of the all-time great jobs.

Why else would Republican William A. Howard IV, the 6th District councilman since 1990, maintain both a family home in Harford County and a townhouse in Carney -- the latter to help him meet Baltimore County's residency requirement for council members?

And why else would the Democrat who aims to unseat Mr. Howard in the Nov. 8 election, veteran state delegate Joseph Bartenfelder, resort to the tactic of hiring a private investigator to shadow Mr. Howard's family and thereby attempt to prove that the councilman doesn't live in the county -- let alone the district -- he supposedly represents?

If any elected official should be a strong presence in his or her community, it is the local council representative, perhaps even more than the district's state senators and delegates who often tackle matters of broader interest. Mr. Howard says he and his wife kept their Harford residence because they felt it could not be sold at a profit, but this explanation rings hollow.

Even had he spent much time at his Carney home, he should have realized that the Harford house could create a negative impression of Bill Howard and his seeming lack of commitment to his constituents. His failure to appreciate this point does not speak well for him.

Mr. Bartenfelder can challenge Mr. Howard's Baltimore County residency in a hearing before state election supervisors. In fact, the Democrat might have no other choice but to carry out the threat now that he has so eagerly publicized it. If he doesn't carry it out -- or if he does and is unsuccessful -- it could backfire on him.

Mr. Howard could appeal any ruling against him to Circuit Court, and then to the state Court of Appeals if necessary. Who knows how long this could drag on?

Whatever the outcome, many county residents (Baltimore County, that is) will be wondering why an elected official with the experience, the organization, the name and money of Joe Bartenfelder would pull such a stunt, especially against a young opponent who is widely viewed as the underdog in this contest despite his incumbency.

We generally don't mind defending government officials against unreasonable attacks by the public. But this is a story that justifies the citizenry's contempt for politicians.

That two council candidates would go to such lengths is proof enough for us that the job offers more benefits than we ever dreamed.

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