Baltimore County Spy Caper

September 26, 1994

Earlier this year, not long after announcing he would challenge Baltimore County Councilman William A. Howard IV for his Sixth District seat, veteran state delegate Joseph Bartenfelder began hinting he would drop a bombshell that would kill Mr. Howard's chance of re-election.

On Sept. 13, as expected, Mr. Bartenfelder overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary for the council seat. Days later, he dropped his bomb: Mr. Howard has a family home in Harford County and a townhouse in the Baltimore County community of Carney, the latter to help him meet the county's residency requirement for council members.

How did Mr. Bartenfelder get this information? He hired a private investigator to tail Mr. Howard and his family and thereby prove that the first-term councilman doesn't live in the county -- let alone the district -- he supposedly represents.

Certainly Mr. Bartenfelder has achieved his goal of embarrassing Mr. Howard, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary. For his part, the councilman says he and his wife kept their Harford residence because they felt it could not be sold at a profit. However, this explanation rings hollow.

Even had he spent most of the past four years at his Carney house, Mr. Howard should have realized he put his council seat at jeopardy by appearing to live outside his district, as the county charter dictates. At minimum, he created a negative impression of Bill Howard and his seeming lack of commitment )) to his constituents. It does not speak well for him that he failed to grasp this point.

Meanwhile, one other politician whose reputation is probably damaged by this incident is Joe Bartenfelder himself. Sixth District voters shouldn't be blamed for wondering why an elected official with the experience, the organization, the name and the money of Joe Bartenfelder would attempt such a stunt, especially against a young opponent who is generally seen as the underdog in this race despite his incumbency.

Mr. Bartenfelder can challenge Mr. Howard's Baltimore County residency in a hearing before state election supervisors. He might have no other choice, now that he has publicized his

threat to do so. Mr. Howard could then appeal any ruling against him to Circuit Court, and then to the Court of Appeals if he would wish to take it that far.

The perks of a County Council job must be better than anyone ever thought. Why else would two council candidates go to such lengths -- one to hold his seat and the other to snatch it away?

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