Third actor shifts race Democrat Evans faces challenger in her bid to run against Gary

'Close as you can get'

Owens says 2 others seeking executive job march 'in lock step'

Campaign 1998

September 13, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The campaign for Anne Arundel county executive has been a soap opera with two stars. But a third player has forced her way onto the set, and she is demanding a complete rewrite of the script.

Will the show enjoy a dramatic plot reversal? Tune in Tuesday for the Democratic primary. The general election is Nov. 3.

So far, the action has centered on two characters.

County Executive John G. Gary is the tough-talking Republican leading man with a swagger in his step, a budget surplus in his pocket and economic development on his mind.

He has shared the spotlight with Diane R. Evans, the former County Council chairwoman forever scolding Gary for pushing her around, bruising the environment, crowding the schools.

But Evans is facing a serious challenge in the Democratic primary from Janet S. Owens, the former director of the county Office on Aging.

Owens wants the voters to see Gary and Evans not as opposites but as identical twins who have supported the same conservative legislation. Both were Republicans until Evans switched parties in April.

Owens is dressing herself as the only real alternative. She describes herself as a "real" Democrat, who enjoys the backing of unions and teachers while fighting for schools and against sprawl.

"I am the only one who is not part of creating the mess in our education system or allowing the rampant uncontrolled growth in Anne Arundel County," Owens, 54, said last week. "The voters know that John and Diane were in lock step almost all these last four years."

Evans denies that she has a similar agenda to Gary's, saying she has fought harder for education and the environment.

Gary also says that he and Evans are starkly different. She has accomplished little, he says, while he has built a courthouse and a jail, hired 101 police officers and strengthened the county's plan to control residential growth.

The record shows that Evans voted for 90 percent of Gary's legislative proposals on which the council took action between January 1997 and August 1998, supporting 97 of Gary's 107 bills.

Evans voted for the controversial county budget this spring that gave the schools $14 million more than last year but not as much as school administrators wanted, leading to their decision to delete a popular program for gifted students. But that vote came after she tried unsuccessfully to give the schools more operating funds.

Often opposed Gary

Evans also voted in favor of Gary's revisions to the long-range plan for controlling growth. And she supported a change in zoning laws to allow a mega-mall west of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

However, the record also shows that the vast majority of Evans' votes in favor of Gary's requests were on routine matters -- for example, small transfers of money within the government.

Evans has made significant votes against the Gary agenda in an effort to slow development. Three times in the past two years, she voted against legislation that set up special tax districts that make it easier for builders to pay for sewers.

She also voted against a proposal by Democratic Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr., a close ally of Gary's, that allowed developers of a proposed 61,600-seat auto race track north of Riviera Beach to sidestep a public hearing and avoid public scrutiny.

Evans proposed nine bills during this period. The most significant was a proposal killed by a vote of 5-1 in June that would have temporarily barred the county from granting waivers allowing developers to build homes in crowded school districts.

Evans also sponsored a successful resolution in the spring that encourages the county to protect scenic and historic roads.

Cautious on growth

"I do not believe that all new development should be barred," Evans said. "But I do not want to accelerate residential growth in sensitive areas, because this really undermines our quality of life."

The former child-support worker from Arnold bristled at the suggestion that she was marching in "lock step" with Gary.

"Absolutely not," said Evans, 49, who has represented the Arnold area on the County Council for eight years. "Why would I be challenging him if I supported his agenda?"

Credit for recovery

Gary's campaign is based largely on describing how he has helped lead the county from economic doldrums four years ago to robust health, with a $12 million surplus as of July 1.

"Four years ago, when we started this journey to establishing a new county government, we didn't make many promises to the citizens of the county because our county was in pretty dire straits," said Gary, 54, a former drapery business owner.

Despite the difficult start, Gary boasts that he not only built a courthouse in Annapolis but also a jail in Glen Burnie -- contributions to county law enforcement that should last for a century, he says. Gary says he helped renovate the Glen Burnie town center, expand Anne Arundel Community College and launch construction of a library near Russett.

Wants school audits

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