'Sleeping giant' missing at polls Candidates see failure to exert political might

October 16, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Although South Carroll is home to more than one-fourth of the county's registered voters, the fast-growing region has yet to flex its political muscle at the polls, fielding few candidates in the November election.

Candidates from South Carroll are calling for more classrooms and better roads to address local problems, but voter apathy has infected the county's most populous area, said Carolyn Fairbank, an independent from Eldersburg who is running for one of three seats on the Board of County Commissioners.

"If every precinct in South Carroll voted for South Carroll issues, there would be real potential to flex its political muscle," said Fairbank. "A lot of candidates feel South Carroll could carry the county."

Growth has dominated many political forums in the county this fall. For years, the county has directed much of its development to South Carroll, which has grown to 30,500 residents, an increase of more than 7,000 since 1990.

Eldersburg schools are crowded, its roads and major intersections are congested, and its police and emergency workers can hardly meet the demands of a burgeoning population. Many residents of the unincorporated area that stretches from Baltimore County west to Route 97 and Howard County north to Liberty Reservoir feel the county has been unresponsive to their needs.

"I think this area of the county has been neglected," said Sykesville resident Maxine C. Wooleyhand, a Democratic candidate for county commissioner. "A lot here should be changed."

South Carroll has the numbers to make changes. Nearly 20,000 of the county's 76,000 registered voters live in the Freedom and Berrett voting districts, which include Eldersburg, Sykesville and Woodbine. They outnumber voters in Westminster, the county's largest voting district, by nearly 3,000.

In the seven-way county commissioner race, only two candidates are from South Carroll: Fairbank and Wooleyhand. Three other South Carroll residents, including incumbent Commissioner Richard T. Yates, were among 19 county commissioner candidates in the party primaries, but they were defeated.

Susan Krebs of Eldersburg and Mary Oldewurtel of Sykesville are among six candidates vying for three school board seats. No other candidates from South Carroll are seeking major county posts.

In the primary last month, Yates, an Eldersburg resident, failed to win renomination in the Republican primary, even though he was the top vote-getter in 1994.

"Yates fell afoul of the basic marketing ploy: Don't tell me what you did yesterday, tell me what you are going to do for me tomorrow," said Hoby Wolf, a longtime political ally.

Four years ago, Yates campaigned door to door promising controls on growth. Krebs said he didn't keep those promises.

"If he had, Liberty High would not be overcrowded," she said.

The most issues

South Carroll has the most issues and the least voice, Krebs said. While campaigning, she has seen informed voters everywhere, but she fears they will not go to the polls next month.

She attributes voter apathy to a county government that has not responded to residents concerned with what she calls "rampant uncontrolled growth." She points to the continuing battle over a shopping complex on a high-traffic stretch of Route 32 near Route 26, the recent firing of a controlled-growth advocate from the county zoning board and the newest elementary school, which opened in Eldersburg at capacity this fall.

"People feel they have no voice, but voting is the voice," Krebs said. "People are apathetic because they think politicians will do what [politicians] want. It does not mean we should give up."

"I hope people get informed, because these candidates are clearly different," she said. "Don't complain about overcrowded schools and roads if you don't vote."

The May vote on a proposal to change local government from rTC three commissioners to a county executive and council might have had a far different outcome had turnout been higher than 25 percent, one of the county's lowest in decades, Fairbank said. The initiative won only in South Carroll, which first championed the call for charter government, hoping that a county executive and county council would be more responsive to local concerns. Charter government failed 11,683 to 7,689 countywide, with 2,378 of the yes votes counted in the Freedom and Berrett districts.

"Every precinct in South Carroll voted for charter," Fairbank said. "If we had had all the registered voters come out, charter might have passed based on South Carroll alone."

For Wooleyhand, the charter vote "should have been some indication that people aren't too happy about what's happening down here."

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman calls Eldersburg "a sleeping giant that has not woken up." A few attempts to annex the entire area into the town have failed for lack of interest.

Concerted effort

"Eldersburg is unorganized with no representation in county government and no rallying force to bring these people together," Herman said. "The county enjoys keeping it in disarray. There is no impetus to give South Carroll its say."

Only a concerted effort from residents can save South Carroll, Herman said. Without that effort, it will be "left out here as the b------ child of Carroll County that it has always been."

If Eldersburg is ignored, the entire county will bear the burden of its failing infrastructure, Krebs said.

"What happens in South Carroll affects everyone," she said. "The battle against rampant, uncontrolled growth is not an us-against-them. We are all in the same boat."

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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