GOP council primary race tests longtime loyalties Bates, Kittleman vie for west county seat

September 11, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The Republican primary battle for the western Howard County Council seat being vacated by Charles C. Feaga sounds a lot like the race between Feaga and Dennis R. Schrader for the Republican county executive nomination.

It pits a longtime party activist who some old-timers felt had earned the right to run against a younger candidate who also has long been active in party politics, but still is considered by some to be an interloper in this race.

It pits a supporter of GOP gubernatorial candidate County Executive Charles I. Ecker against a backer of Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

It has one candidate who thinks the county has done a good enough job managing growth and another who thinks the county needs to do much more; a candidate who conducts polls and one who doesn't.

In this doppelganger of the GOP executive's primary, Gail H. Bates and Allan H. Kittleman are sounding some familiar campaign themes and forcing friends to pick sides.

Their rhetoric often echoes the comments of Feaga and Schrader, especially on the issues of development and the $125-a-home trash fee.

Kittleman and Schrader want to encourage more commercial development and less residential growth, and both support eliminating the trash fee.

Bates and Feaga believe the county has managed growth properly, and they defend the trash fee as fiscally prudent.

A friendly battle

But in rural western Howard, allegiances are born as much out of friendships as out of ideology, and both candidates have deep roots in the county. Choosing which candidate to support in the council race isn't as simple as comparing platforms.

"It's like voting between your son and your sister, because Gail is a little younger than me, and Allan could be my son," said LaRue Poyer, treasurer of the Republican Central Committee and a Lisbon-area resident.

"People are very, very divided about this. There's all kinds of allegiances being strained," she said.

Poyer supports Bates even though she backs Schrader in the executive race. She says she made her decision out of "loyalty to Gail."

"I was a fresh kid on the block in '84, and she was on the central committee and took me under her wing," Poyer said. "If Gail hadn't run, I would have been just as gung-ho for Allan running, so it's just one of those tough choices one has to make."

A tough choice

The choice is made that much tougher because both have been so active in the party.

Bates, 52, spent much of the 1980s on the front lines for the party, managing Feaga's campaigns, registering voters, teaching candidate schools, organizing party events. For much of this decade, she has worked for the county as an assistant to Ecker, and she supports Feaga's bid for executive.

Kittleman, 39, also has worked hard within the party, volunteering for candidates and serving as chairman of the Republican Central Committee, president of the Howard County Republican Club and as the county coordinator for Sauerbrey's 1994 gubernatorial campaign.

Because of his sensitive position as a friend of both Feaga and Schrader, Kittleman has chosen not to reveal which candidate for executive he will vote for, even though Schrader is backing him.

The differences

The clearest ideological differences between the two council candidates have been on growth, and the differences extend to campaign finances.

Kittleman has decided not to accept developers' contributions and has returned $710 in contributions he previously received from developers and zoning attorneys, arguing that he doesn't want voters to worry about whether his decisions were $l influenced by campaign contributions.

Only one-fifth of Bates' $25,000 has come from developers, and she says she would not be swayed by campaign contributions.

But ideology aside, it was Bates who some Republicans had assumed would be the party's choice to succeed Feaga this year. Some felt it was "her turn," just as some felt it was Feaga's turn to run for county executive despite Schrader's entrance into the race last year.

Now Bates' supporters, including Feaga, talk about their surprise that Kittleman opted to run for local office rather than wait to try to succeed his father in the House of Delegates. They also talk in coded refrains about Bates being more focused on "local issues" and Kittleman seeming to care more about state issues.

But in stark contrast to the tense executive's race, that's about the closest anyone has come to saying anything negative about Kittleman. Both candidates have run upbeat, positive campaigns, and they and their supporters vow to back the winner in Tuesday's primary (there are two other GOP candidates, James Adams and Xaver Gramkow, neither of whom have mounted serious campaigns).

"In some ways, it's been hard, because we are friends," Kittleman said. "But in other ways, it really has been good, because I trust Gail and I respect Gail and I know she's not going to do anything untoward to me and I know she thinks the same of me. Neither one of us are stooping to means that would denigrate the other."

"After the primary, he'll be able to support me," Bates said, laughing but making sure to add that in the event Kittleman wins, she will support him. "I have been a Republican supporter, fund-raiser and cheerleader so long, I wouldn't know how to do otherwise."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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