Ron Szczybor, the Republican underdog who has been snapping at incumbent County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann for months, says he's salivating at the chance to expose his Democratic opponent as a big-money politician who has not lived up to her promise to control growth.
Mrs. Rehrmann also is looking forward to the candidates' first debate, scheduled for Wednesday in the County Council chambers in Bel Air. She says voters finally will see Mr. Szczybor in his true colors -- arrogant and opportunistic, unable to offer substantive solutions to what he perceives as county problems.
During the debate, which begins at 7 p.m. in the courthouse, 20 W. Courtland St., the candidates will answer a limited number of questions from the audience and will be allowed to confront each other with one question. The debate will be taped for broadcast throughout October on the local cable network.
As the executive's race enters its final weeks, both candidates say they are picking up the pace of canvassing, advertisements and community gatherings.
"We believe we are within striking distance," Mr. Szczybor said. "Even with all the marketing, she [Mrs. Rehrmann] doesn't have the popularity she should have at this time."
Earlier in the campaign, Mr. Szczybor, who is making his first attempt at an elected office, emphasized his experience as a financial consultant as his greatest asset. He said he could rescue the county from burdensome debt and excess taxation.
With Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno's win in the Democratic primary for council president on a platform of growth management -- and other Democratic and Republican candidates latching onto the issue -- Mr. Szczybor is trying to paint Mrs. Rehrmann as the darling of developers.
"I am pro-business. My opponent is pro-development," he said last week.
And, he said, Mrs. Rehrmann is not the consensus-builder she promised to be when she took office four years ago.
The long-running dispute over the management of the county jail and the future of law enforcement in Harford -- which pits the executive against the cherished institution of the county sheriff's office -- has divided Democrats, Mr. Szczybor said. Incumbent ,, Sheriff Robert E. Comes is a Democrat who formerly had Mrs. Rehrmann's support.
But the Rehrmann campaign scoffs at Mr. Szczybor's recent promise to do a better job of restricting growth.
"He may have his finger in the air" testing the political winds, said Joseph F. Snee Jr., the executive's campaign manager.
"The only thing I've heard from our opponent is personal attacks on Mrs. Rehrmann and her administration," Mr. Snee said.
Mrs. Rehrmann, a former state legislator who has raised five times as much campaign money as Mr. Szczybor, is still portraying her opponent as a Rush Limbaughesque antagonist.
She touts her record on promoting a variety of legislation to force growth into areas that can support it, preserving the rural character of the northern county and preserving trees.
"We can't wait to debate this opponent," Mr. Snee said. "I think it will become absolutely clear that Mrs. Rehrmann is the most qualified candidate to hold the most important office in Harford County."