Craig-Freeman race marked by civility

October 30, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Republican David R. Craig says he is campaigning against Harford County's stealth senator -- but he knows he is risking his political career.

Most observers agree that Mr. Craig -- despite the respect he garnered as a city councilman and mayor in Havre de Grace and his reputation as a hard-working, one-term state delegate -- must pull out all the stops to unseat Habern W. Freeman Jr., a popular, fiercely independent Democrat who represents the 34th Legislative District.

Mr. Freeman's conservatism and abhorrence of big government blur the lines between the candidates.

Both candidates support welfare reform, the rights of local governments to have primary authority over land use decisions and term limits on elected officials. Both complain about high taxation and bloated government bureaucracies.

And both candidates can boast of significant political victories.

Mr. Freeman, a physical therapist, handily beat the late William S. James, an immensely popular state senator and state treasurer, in the 1990 primary election. Mr. James, a political institution in Harford and statewide, died in April 1993.

In 1990, Mr. Craig was the first Republican elected to the House of Delegates from the 34th District when he edged out veteran Democratic Del. William H. Cox Jr., who had taken heat over his involvement with a controversial rubble landfill.

Despite their similarities, Mr. Craig has argued that Mr. Freeman's individualism makes him an ineffective outsider.

"If I win, people will not ask, 'Who's our state senator?' " said Mr. Craig, a 45-year-old assistant principal at Southampton Middle School near Bel Air and a lifelong Havre de Grace resident.

He said Mr. Freeman has tried "to run Harford County from Annapolis" by differing with local leaders over school construction money and other issues.

As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee's education subcommittee, Mr. Craig says he was regarded as an expert on school budgets.

Mr. Craig is a Republican Party loyalist who says he also works well with the legislature's Democratic leadership. He relishes the thought of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey becoming Maryland's next governor.

And, he says Mr. Freeman will be an outsider no matter who wins the governor's race.

Mr. Freeman, 53, is a popular former county executive from Joppa and County Council member who is proud to march to a different drummer.

While Mr. Craig says Mr. Freeman has been too quiet in Annapolis, the Democrat says he has been working hard to keep government out of people's lives and pocketbooks.

"Of all the years I've been in government, I've never really liked it. I just keep trying to change it," Mr. Freeman said. "I don't like legislation, laws and rules, period."

Mr. Freeman says he is proud of his efforts to help guide constituents through bureaucratic mazes and his attempts to defend common people against unnecessary government intrusion, such as a $10 state permit fee for catching a few crabs with chicken necks.

He says his conservative views serve him well as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, whose chairman, Democrat Walter M. Baker of Cecil County, also is a conservative.

Mr. Freeman, the only former county executive in the General Assembly, says he wants to continue working on "truth in sentencing" of criminals, victims' rights and limiting what he calls luxuries granted to prisoners.

Mr. Freeman shrugs off claims by Mr. Craig that he is inattentive to the electorate, ineffective and unable to work with fellow legislators. Instead of firing back with criticism of his own, he has nice things to say about his opponent. The contest has been among the most civil and respectful in Harford this election season.

"He's a good guy," Mr. Freeman said of Mr. Craig. "He is one of my most favorite delegates . . . I think we are two good candidates."

It is clear that Mr. Craig recognizes his role as the challenger. He has spent roughly twice as much in his campaign -- $40,000 to Mr. Freeman's $20,000.

Mr. Craig is running cable television ads. As of late last week, Mr. Freeman had not decided whether to advertise on television.

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