Candidates conduct name-calling campaign CAMPAIGN 1994--HARFORD COUNTY COUNCIL

October 27, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

In July, Republican Ronald M. Szczybor promised a spirited race against Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a Democrat seeking her second term.

"You are going to have entertainment during the next four months that you won't believe," he told Mrs. Rehrmann.

With less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, no one can say that contest has been dull.

The candidates' sniping -- fueled by Mr. Szczybor's combative style -- has overshadowed constructive discussion of growth control, law enforcement, the environmental cleanup of the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground and other issues facing the county of 204,000 residents.

Mr. Szczybor (pronounced See-bor), a political newcomer, has called Mrs. Rehrmann the "queen of developers" who have contributed to her campaign.

Asked about his strategy during a recent debate, he said: "Never mud wrestle with a pig, because you both get dirty and the pig always wins."

Responding to Mr. Szczybor's charge that she is beholden to developers, Mrs. Rehrmann said Monday during a radio debate: "Their concern is that if you were county executive that no one would want to live in Harford County."

Despite the name-calling, Mr. Szczybor, a 37-year-old former stockbroker and part owner of an indoor soccer arena, contends that he has refrained from personal attacks. He has promised to ease strained relations among the county's political leaders.

Mrs. Rehrmann, a 49-year-old former member of the Bel Air Board of Commissioners and two-term state delegate who served on the House Appropriations Committee, has called Mr. Szczybor a shrill, chronic complainer with no plans.

Mrs. Rehrmann has attacked Mr. Szczybor's abilities as a businessman and a financial analyst, saying he would create "fiscal chaos" in the county.

She has called him an outcast among the people he claims to represent. "He doesn't have a following among either party nor in the business community," she said.

Some political observers say Mr. Szczybor is motivated by anger over minor, long-running zoning disputes with the county involving his businesses. In addition, they say, his core of supporters consists mainly of a small number of disgruntled former county employees.

Despite Mr. Szczybor's claim that he is the county's top Republican, few, if any, GOP elected officials or prominent GOP candidates have given him their blessing.

Mrs. Rehrmann certainly has her detractors, including the county teachers' union, the county sheriff and some members of the County Council.

Still, Mrs. Rehrmann has raised more than five times as much campaign money as her opponent.

As of September, Mrs. Rehrmann had raised $205,000 to Mr. Szczybor's $32,000. Updated financial disclosures are due tomorrow.

The rough nature of the campaign has surprised veteran county politicians.

"I don't like the way either one of them has run their campaigns," said Habern W. Freeman Jr., a Democratic state senator from Harford who was the previous county executive. "They are hitting each other personally."

Despite the messiness of the campaign, critical issues face Harford, a county that has struggled to maintain remnants of its historically rural, slower-paced nature in the face of exploding residential growth.

Elements of that struggle are present in a ballot question in which voters will be asked to decide whether to strip the law enforcement duties from the elected sheriff -- a badge of the county's rural past -- and create a police department under the county executive's administration. The issue arose more than two years ago, after the well-publicized death of inmate William Ford at the county detention center operated by the sheriff's office. In a report that remains controversial, a county grand jury ruled Mr. Ford's death a suicide. The Ford family claims that the inmate was raped and killed by one or more jail guards.

Mr. Szczybor also has criticized a $400,000 settlement of federal civil rights lawsuit threatened by the Ford family, which was paid by the Rehrmann administration. But Mrs. Rehrmann said that, regardless of how Mr. Ford died, the settlement was proper and was based on the jail staff's failure to follow its own written procedures.

Mrs. Rehrmann, seeking to end what she calls the political mayhem and mismanagement in the sheriff's office, said she wants a "professional" police chief.

Mr. Szczybor calls her support for the takeover another example of Mrs. Rehrmann's hunger for power.

The ballot question does not address the management of the jail, but Mrs. Rehrmann has vowed to bring the facility under her administration through a separate action.

Mr. Szczybor has focused more on controlling growth since the September primary election, when it was shown to be the pivotal issue in the contest for County Council president. He has called Mrs. Rehrmann's growth-management strategies a sham, saying they allow thousands of homes to skirt requirements that development not outpace the construction of schools, roads and other basic services.

In response, Mrs. Rehrmann contends that her growth-management legislation has resulted in a 42 percent reduction in residential building permits during her first term and a significant slowdown in new construction allowed under an updated master water and sewer plan.

During the 1980s, Harford grew by nearly 40,000 residents, or about 25 percent. The county's population is projected to reach 226,000 by the year 2000.

Mrs. Rehrmann has held the line on the property tax of $2.73 per $100 of assessed valuation and the income tax rate of 50 percent. But Mr. Szczybor has accused her of "stealth" taxation through the levying of fees for trash disposal, county permits and other activities.

Although Mr. Szczybor has called his opponent a traditional "tax-and-spend liberal," he also has criticized her for being not spending enough on education and law enforcement.

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