Growth fears dominate county executive race Candidates suggest ways to preserve services

Primary 1998

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

Harford County residents pushed the issue of rapid growth to the forefront of a hotly contested Republican primary race for the nomination for county executive.

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

"Almost every other issue they [voters] have talked about has been related to growth," said state Sen. David R. Craig, of Havre de Grace, who is seeking the GOP nomination for county executive. "It's kind of like with real estate, the saying is 'location, location, location.' This campaign has been 'growth, growth, growth.' "

Craig, a former Havre de Grace mayor and councilman, has faced a strong challenge from Republican Del. James M. Harkins of Whiteford to succeed former gubernatorial candidate and Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a Democrat. Also running for the Republican nomination is Vedell Pace of Gunpowder.

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 the Harford County adopted its charter in 1972.

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.

Craig, 49, 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 said he has a plan for easing residents' worries about growth and their disillusionment with county government.

Craig, a father of three and an assistant principal at Southampton Middle School, said he favors 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.

Opposing Craig is Harkins, a deputy in the Sheriff's Office and a delegate for the past eight years. Harkins, 44, 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.

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 Arthur H. Helton, a longtime Harford politician, challenged Robert W. 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.

In addition to owning a Western Auto Store in Aberdeen, Helton also has been chairman of several civic organizations and farmed sheep and lamb.

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

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

More than 20 people filed for three vacant House of Delegates positions -- including County Council President Joanne S. Parrott and Councilman Barry Glassman, who are giving up their seats on the all-Republican council.

Other candidates include Democrat Mary-Dulany James, daughter of the late William S. James, a state treasurer and Senate president. She is running for one of the two vacant House seats in the 34th District.

In addition, in November's general election, Del. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican, will challenge Del. Mary Louise Preis, a Democrat, for a District 34 Senate seat being vacated by county executive candidate Craig.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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