Spending disparities mark Balto. County races Incumbents maintain large edge over novices in campaign fund-raising

August 31, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Jacqueline Fleming hasn't spent a cent on her campaign for Baltimore County Council -- and the second-time Republican candidate from Lochearn doesn't plan to, either.

"I'm using what I have. I have plenty of things left over -- bumper stickers, place cards, big posters," the retired teacher said about materials from her first run four years ago.

Money -- sometimes called the mother's milk of politics -- generally is in short supply for novice political candidates such as Fleming, who must rely on shoe leather, sign waving and networks of family and friends to get their names before the public.

Their situation contrasts sharply with that of incumbents such as County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who raised $1.3 million over the last four years, and still has $749,000 in the bank. His Republican opponent, John J. Bishop, reported raising $1,000.

It's a system that gives big-money donors control of elections and legislation, said Kathleen S. Skullney, director of the private reform group Common Cause Maryland.

"Voters are the big losers because you never get an equal playing field. The public looks at that and says, 'I don't count.' Voters don't vote," she said.

Veteran politicians, however, say they need the money to maintain their name recognition and discourage opponents.

"I do think having adequate finances enbles you to get your message out," said county Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican who raised $272,222 over his first term. McIntire faces no primary opponent and one lightly financed Democrat in the general election.

The disparity in spending is illustrated by the race for county council in the Pikesville-Randallstown area, where Republican hopefuls Fleming and Lisa P. Cohen are vying to challenge well-financed Democratic incumbent Kevin B. Kamenetz.

Cohen reports having raised only $1,050 -- all of it her own money. Kamenetz is sitting on a campaign fund of more than $100,000.

But not all novice candidates run a shoe-string campaign.

Take first-time House of Delegates candidate Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin, an Owings Mills Democrat who hasn't yet graduated from law school and is unemployed while he runs for public office.

Aided by loans of $15,000 from his savings and another $5,460 from his parents, Zirkin is giving away relatively expensive campaign trinkets such as T-shirts that cost him $2.30 each.

"It's a little experiment -- a way to get my message out," said the ambitious 27-year-old, who reports raising $56,835.

Zirkin's spending is not completely out of place in the northwestern county, which has a history of high-spending races that dates back at least 20 years.

And many incumbents have big campaign funds they can rely on, even in the absence of substantial opposition.

State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Pikesville Democrat, has no opponent this year, but $85,324 in the bank, the reports say. The three Democratic delegates in her district, Dr. Dan K. Morhaim, Michael J. Finifter and Robert Frank, reported raising more than $80,000 each over their first term, with Morhaim leading the pack at $119,215.

Among county council members, Kamenetz and McIntire are the champion fund-raisers, each sitting on funds of more than $105,000, according to the latest reports.

In contrast, Alan M. Elkin, McIntire's Democratic opponent, has raised about $2,500, including $2,000 from his family.

At the other extreme are candidates such as Alexander B. Page Jr., a Democrat running against Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, and Russell Mirable, a Republican seeking the Dundalk council seat occupied by Democrat Louis L. DePazzo.

Mirable reported not spending a penny yet. Page lent himself $999, but said he's adding more of his own money to his uphill race. "I hate to ask people for money," said Page, 71, a retired Orphan's Court judge.

Mirable said he is waiting to see if DePazzo survives a primary challenge from fellow Democrat John A. "Johnny O" Olszewski. Olszewski reported raising $28,417, and had $5,192 left.

DePazzo had one small breakfast fund-raiser this year but otherwise has spent more than $47,000 of his own money on his campaigns for a judgeship in 1992 and council in 1994 and this year. He said people in the eastern county are suspicious of candidates who spend too much.

"I don't believe you can buy votes," the silver-haired councilman said. He reports having only $4,578 on hand, after lending himself $13,000 since the last election.

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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