Wagner steps lively in 32nd District race CAMPAIGN 1994

October 19, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Over in Glen Burnie Park, three-term incumbent state Sen. Michael J. Wagner is wooing voters on Baylor Road. The last time he did that, he thinks, was 1982 -- his last contested election.

This time around he is pressing the flesh for the simplests of reasons. "I have an opponent," said the 52-year-old Ferndale caterer.

His challenger, C. Edward Middlebrooks, is chairman of the Anne Arundel County Council. The 39-year-old former Democrat became a Republican just to run against Mr. Wagner. The lawyer from Old Mill already has shown he can get votes.

In some minds, Mr. Wagner isn't a sure bet to keep his 32nd District Senate seat.

"He's never been really challenged by a Republican," says Helen Fister, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee.

Though Republicans have been making inroads, the district's 42,271 voters are predominantly Democrats. In 1990, 61 percent of the registered voters were Democrats and 32 percent were Republicans. Four years later, Democrat totals had dropped to 57 percent, while the Republicans increased to 34 percent.

This political season, Mr. Wagner is reaching back to the past and handing out what's left of the mirrors he gave out in 1982, when he beat then-newcomer and now Del. Victor A. Sulin. His evenings are filled with door-to-door campaigning. He says he feels "like the Fuller Brush man." But he is running hard, defending his style and record against Mr. Middlebrooks' attacks.

Mr. Wagner says Mr. Middlebrooks' darts show he can criticize but cannot lead.

Practical approach

"If you want nonstop flights to Hawaii, we need an airport," said Mr. Wagner, who points to the practical approach he takes in making decisions. "If you want your trash picked up, you have got to have a dump."

Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad of Annapolis, who is retiring from the State House, said, "Mike is more of the pragmatic politician. . . . Mike also brings a business perspective to the Anne Arundel County delegation."

Maryland Business for Responsive Government and the Anne Arundel County Trade Council both gave Mr. Wagner high marks. The council noted that he voted with its position on 12 of 13 bills.

In his attacks, Mr. Middlebrooks points to the different positions he and Mr. Wagner have on several issues close to voters.

Mr. Middlebrooks opposes extending the Central Light Rail line down the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail Park. Mr. Wagner was instrumental in bringing light rail to Dorsey Road and has organized meetings to let communities know they have to select light rail route.

Mr. Middlebrooks is against a new county jail in Glen Burnie. Mr. Wagner has said that it's up to the county to decide where to put a jail, and that it is the delegation's job to find the money.

In March, Mr. Wagner voted with North County senators in an unsuccessful attempt to block $1.2 million in state planning money for the planning.

Against stadium

Mr. Middlebrooks is against the Redskins' proposed football stadium in Laurel, while Mr. Wagner said the team should get the stadium if the Redskins meet the requirements.

Mr. Middlebrooks also favors a two-term limit.

"We have term limits," Mr. Wagner said. "They are called democratic elections."

Another of Mr. Middlebrooks' plans is to put liquor inspectors in the Police Department and liquor licensing under the county's administrative hearings officer, a change from the system of largely senatorial patronage jobs.

Mr. Middlebrooks says Mr. Wagner's involvement in the restaurant supply business puts customers in the unfair position of being regulated by Mr. Wagner's political boosters. Mr.

Wagner, however, said the system doesn't need to be changed and that business operators aren't pressured into supporting him.

Mr. Middlebrooks also has charged Mr. Wagner with being aloof, while saying he attends community gatherings to learn what is on the public's minds.

"There's two different styles here of how we think we should represent people," said Mr. Middlebrooks. "You don't see him out. Did you ever see him out on the jail meetings? Everyone's there, but no Mike Wagner."

Mr. Wagner dismissed Mr. Middlebrooks' community appearances. "All he does is sing to the crowd," said the senator, who also said he prefers to get together with community leaders and come up with solutions.

Mr. Middlebrooks' response to Mr. Wagner's approach was to say, "He has his meetings in the back room."

The face-off between the two men, who shared some supporters until this race, led some in the community to buy tickets to fund-raisers and stuff envelopes for both.

As of early September, Mr. Middlebrooks had raised $23,212, and spent nearly that amount. Mr. Wagner had raised $294,069 and spent $261,702, most of it, $203,409, went toward fund-raisers, according to campaign finance reports.

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