Harkins wins nod in Harford GOP race Primary 1998

September 16, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In a hotly contested race in Harford County, Del. James M. Harkins captured the Republican nomination to run for county executive, beating state Sen. David R. Craig by nearly 2,000 votes.

"We just have a 60-yard dash now until Nov. 3," Harkins, a deputy county sheriff, said last night. In the November general election, he will face Democrat Arthur H. Helton, who defeated Robert W. Cos last night by a 2-1 margin. The winner will succeed former gubernatorial candidate and Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a Democrat.

"We articulated a message and made our vision clear," said Harkins, who ran on a strong promise to lure businesses to the county. He also catered to Harford residents who had pushed the issue of more open space in the once-rural county, where development is spreading fast.

Final tallies released by the Harford Board of Elections last night showed Harkins with 8,324 votes to Craig's 6,378. A third Republican, Vedell Pace of Gunpowder, received 184 votes.

In an area where Democrats once outnumbered Republicans 2-to-1, party numbers have shifted in recent years as newcomers flooded the county. Historically, Democrats have voted conservatively in the county, and political observers say that, coupled with the rising numbers of Republicans, could lead to election of the first GOP executive since Harford County adopted its charter in 1972.

Nowhere else in the region has rapid development played such a large part in this year's elections as in Harford, where anti-growth literature has been circulated and accusations of politicians being in the pockets of developers have abounded.

Harford County residents had pushed the issue of rapid growth to the forefront of the executive race. "Almost every other issue they [voters] have talked about has been related to growth," said Craig, a former Havre de Grace mayor. "It's kind of like with real estate, the saying is 'location, location, location.' This campaign has been 'growth, growth, growth.' "

This election year, Harford residents have complained loudly about overcrowded schools, failing roads and the influx of developments. They have rallied to place on the Nov. 3 general election ballot an amendment to the charter instituting a one-year halt to development and a measure that would scrap all decisions made last year by the county council to rezone land for development.

Wants better planning

Craig, 49, had said many people hold politicians responsible for opening the floodgates that led to booming development in the 1980s and the continuous rush of growth. He had touted his plan for easing residents' worries about growth and their disillusionment with county government.

"We need to create a first-class planning department which will be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with growth," Craig said. "We need to look at creating communities and not developments."

Craig, a father of three and an assistant principal at Southampton Middle School, favored several initiatives, including campaign finance reforms that would prevent candidates from holding fund-raisers during comprehensive rezoning. That, he said, could quell complaints that politicians give developers preferential treatment based on their donations.

Wants county to buy land

Harkins, 44, a delegate for the past eight years, said that he wanted the county to "actively, aggressively purchase land for open space" and that he planned to work closely with the county's legislative delegation.

"I want to set aside an amusement tax and designate that money for purchasing land," he said. "That would give us $2.1 million for open space."

Harkins, a father of two, launched an aggressive television and radio advertising campaign, accusing Craig of raising taxes and undercutting services for seniors during his term as mayor of Havre de Grace.

Harkins also pledged to lure high-tech businesses to the Route 40 corridor, which runs from Joppatowne to Havre de Grace.

Democrat Helton, a longtime Harford politician, challenged Cos for his party's nomination for county executive. A former county council member and senator, Helton said he has the business acumen to run a county with a multimillion-dollar budget.

Need to slow growth

"We are going to have to manage growth and slow it so the services can catch up," said Helton, 60, who owns a Western Auto Store in Aberdeen and also has been chairman of several civic organizations.

As county executive, Helton said, he would create a zoning classification to attract high-paying industrial jobs.

"We're going to have to grow the business side while simultaneously slowing the residential side," he said.

On the legislative front, the decision by several longtime politicians to seek new offices set off a scramble to fill their seats.

In the 34th District, Democrat Mary-Dulany James, daughter of the late William S. James, a state treasurer and Senate president, led six other Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates, with B. Daniel Riley and Robin Walter also winning. For the Republican nomination, former Aberdeen Mayor Charles A. Boutin led the race, followed by Robert E. Shaffner and Michael Griffin.

In District 35-A, the only three Democratic candidates running were nominated and two former council members -- Barry Glassman and Joanne S. Parrott -- won the Republican nominations along with Rocky Gonzalez.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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