3 county executive candidates meet in NAACP-held debate Racism, economy discussed in event tinged with bitterness

August 21, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The first debate in the race for Anne Arundel County Executive kicked off last night with incumbent Republican John G. Gary calmly touting his economic successes and Democrat Diane R. Evans savaging his character.

Meanwhile, the most recent candidate to join the race, Democrat Janet Owens, tried to position herself above the bickering, saying she disapproved of the bitter tone that the other candidates had injected into the race.

About 50 people attended the forum sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Anne Arundel Community College.

Evans, former chairman of the County Council, is far behind Gary in raising money for the campaign. Her statements bristled with suggestions that Gary is power-hungry and racially insensitive.

"I'm basing my candidacy on the premise that public service is more important than the search for personal power that open doors are better than closed doors," said Evans.

She said that Gary had shown disrespect for two local black officials -- Judge Clayton Greene and schools Superintendent Carol Parham -- by criticizing their performance in office.

"Mr. Gary, are you a racist?" asked moderator Carl Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman.

Gary said that he grew up among racists in Pasadena, but that he has worked in office to improve economic opportunities for minorities.

"I grew up in a very hard-core, what I might call redneck community," Gary said. "Where I grew up in the 1960s, if there was a black person in the neighborhood, he'd probably get his brains beat out. But I never, ever condoned that."

He added: "I believe my actions speak louder than words. And I believe that my actions show that I don't have a racist bone in my body."

Gary emphasized his successes building a multimillion-dollar surplus for the county government, creating jobs and transforming the county from a bedroom community into one bursting with new businesses.

"It's no accident that we are in a very good fiscal condition," Gary said. "We are the leading county in the state for job creation."

Owens, the former director of the Anne Arundel County Office on Aging, boasted that she had been endorsed by the local teachers union and a chapter of the AFL-CIO.

"I decided to run for county executive because I disagreed with the current county executive on education, the explosion of growth in the county and the needs of the elderly," Owens said.

She said she was disturbed by the campaign's seemingly casual reference to racism, which began when Evans sent out a press release needling Gary for his criticism of Greene and Parham.

"I really am deeply troubled that we talk lightly about this subject," said Owens.

The Democratic primary between Owens and Evans will be held Sept. 15.

The winner will face Gary in the general election Nov. 3.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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