Race takes sharp turn Schrader focuses campaign rhetoric on development

August 25, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Dennis R. Schrader and Charles C. Feaga, GOP rivals for county executive, launched their campaigns more than a year ago, but today might mark the beginning of their primary duel for many voters.

With a television advertisement starting on cable today characterizing Feaga as "the developers' friend," combined with a mailing to Republican homes this week, Schrader is throwing down the gauntlet in his race against Feaga with exactly three weeks left until the election.

"Charlie Feaga says we cannot do a better job managing growth," the television ad says, echoing the direct-mail text. "Dennis Schrader disagrees. We can do better."

The ad seeks to distinguish the two councilmen on what many consider the county's No. 1 issue, growth, but it also clearly distinguishes the two candidates' campaigning styles. Feaga, a 65-year-old farmer from West Friendship, says he will not air either a defense of his record or any counterattacks against his opponent.

"We just don't do the same thing," Feaga said yesterday in reaction to the ad, shaking his head a little in disapproval. He then repeated a pronouncement he made months ago that he would never run a negative advertisement. "Even if I panicked, I would not do that."

Schrader's advisers say they are not in a panic. Rather, they say the ad and the mailer merely address the "No. 1 issue" in this year's elections, an issue on which they say Feaga is vulnerable.

"Charlie's positions on growth are clearly out of step with the large majority of voters in the county," said Columbia pollster Brad Coker, an adviser to Schrader, a 45-year-old hospital executive. "Charlie has always been unapologetic on development."

Feaga yesterday defended his record of what he called "managed growth," not "controlled growth." He mentioned his role in crafting the county's farmland preservation policy. He said he has voted against developments, and noted that half as many homes are being built each year in the county now than during the fast-paced building days of the late 1980s.

But Feaga didn't try to dispel the notion that he has supported developers' rights.

"Business would be in a sad predicament if government started interfering with how they run their business and how they do their work, because business does a better job than government," said Feaga, sounding a traditional Republican theme.

Almost uniquely among county politicians, Feaga has never tried to suggest he is a controlled-growth candidate. At a fund-raiser in June, a prominent businessman stood up and said he supported Feaga because Feaga understands "growth is good."

A 12-year council veteran, Feaga has been perhaps the most reliable pro-development vote on the council, generally opposing measures -- a couple of which were backed by Schrader -- that some developers feared would hamper their ability to build in the county.

In his ad and mailer, Schrader says he defended a voter-approved charter amendment that gave voters the right to petition some zoning changes. Feaga voted unsuccessfully in 1996 to limit the scope of the amendment, arguing residents on one side of the county shouldn't be deciding zoning issues affecting the other side.

State Sen. Martin G. Madden, a popular Republican who represents many of the same southern Howard constituents as Schrader, noted Schrader's vote in favor of preserving the broader petitioning power as one reason he is endorsing Schrader over Feaga.

Schrader also says in the television spot that he wants developers to measure the fiscal impact of their proposed projects, to determine how much of the cost of new schools, roads and the like will be covered by new tax revenues the projects generate. Feaga said he opposes it because he doesn't believe government should be telling developers how to design their projects.

Schrader's ad and mailer say he voted against a zoning change that allowed the Rouse Co. to move ahead with a Columbia-style village development in North Laurel. Feaga voted for the zoning change, which passed earlier this year.

Though Schrader has been careful to tell voters as he goes door to door that he does not oppose development, the ad and mailer are not so nuanced. The television spot declares, in big, bold red letters under Schrader's picture, "No! to developers."

Feaga won't try to counter Schrader's offensive with new print or television ads. He will continue to run his three cable television ads and distribute his campaign materials, none of which mention that Feaga even has an opponent in the GOP primary.

The Democratic candidate, former police Chief James N. Robey, doesn't have a primary opponent and awaits the winner of the Feaga-Schrader race.

Media consultant Roger Caplan, who is not advising either candidate, said Feaga is making a mistake by not responding to Schrader.

"He's in a hot race. You can't just go out there and say, 'Hey, I'm Charlie Feaga, I've done a good job,' " Caplan said. "There's a lot of people throughout Howard County who may not understand what he is, and you don't want your opponent to define who you are, and that's what he's allowing Dennis to do."

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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