Harried voters seek specifics on local issues In House District 31, controversy could turn tide in tight election

October 18, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

It's a mean electorate that House of Delegates candidates in District 31 are appealing to this fall.

The residents of northeast Anne Arundel County have been waging fiery battles over a car racing track, congestion on Mountain Road, the danger of fly ash dumping by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. radium in their well water and, since last week, safety worries prompted by an explosion in a chemical plant across the county line.

All of this, party officials say, has educated District 31 voters about the issues, and put them in the mood to cut out anyone who doesn't see their favorite controversy the same way they do.

The primary election ouster last month of County Councilman Thomas G. Redmond Sr. by more than 2,000 votes, some residents say, is just the beginning.

"When you have issues that are close to people's homes, they can't afford to be complacent," said Kathleen Shatt, chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Democratic State Central Committee. "It makes voters more educated and aware of candidates' positions.

"It's a sign you need to work closely with constituents and make sure you are representing what they want," she said.

The turbulent climate has prompted many of the candidates to race out to last-minute community meetings up and down the peninsula, where residents have used their appearances as an opportunity to ask direct, detailed questions: Do you want a bypass or a Mountain Road expansion? Are you going to thwart or support the race track? How are you going to get us cleaner water?

Candidates are finding that generic responses and stump-speech cliches aren't cutting it.

"Voters are especially discerning in this day and age," said Del. John R. Leopold, an incumbent Republican. "I think people are going to vote independently on the basis of records and individual sentiments."

Leopold and Joan Cadden, a two-term Democrat, have name recognition and devoted followers. Still, both have been appealing to residents by firing off letters to state and local officials on issues ranging from land preservation to the disposal of cremation remains.

Party officials from their respective sides name Cadden, a beauty shop owner and grandmother, and Leopold, a full-time legislator who has held a seat in the House of Delegates since 1982, as shoe-ins for re-election.

With those spots taken, Republican and Democratic party leaders expect a close race among the other four candidates.

Incumbent Republican Victoria L. "Vickie" Schade, who works in BGE's collection department, enjoys some name recognition. She backed legislation to decrease the state personal income tax, proposing annual 6 percent cuts, but hasn't garnered the respect among residents for tackling local issues Leopold and Cadden have.

Mary Rosso has made a name for herself over the past decade tackling environmental concerns in the north county. She has been called outspoken and tenacious in her fight against the race track and against BGE.

Rosso's self-described "polar opposite," Republican Robert Schaeffer, could have a tougher time grabbing the limelight.

The father of the county's 1992 tax cap, Schaeffer supports construction of the Pasadena race track and dismisses fly ash as an "inert substance."

Thomas J. Fleckenstein, a Democratic newcomer to politics, has garnered attention with his bright responses to local concerns at community meetings, Shatt said. He slipped into the general election by just five votes, but is widely respected as a strong county prosecutor.

"He's new," Shatt said, "but people have been really impressed with his intelligence. It's going to be a tough race for him against John Leopold, but I think Vickie Schade is beatable."

Unlike the three Democrats, who are running as a team with state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, Republicans Leopold, Schade and Schaeffer have chosen to run solo. In his five election bids in Maryland, Leopold has never had a running mate.

Party officials on both sides agree the election likely will come down to voter turnout.

Democrats are hoping registered voters, 54 percent of whom are Democrats, will turn up. Republicans are openly hoping the Clinton scandal will keep Democrats at home.

"There is a great deal of interest in [issues] in that area, especially from Republicans" said Helen R. Fister, chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee. "And if people are interested, I think they will vote. I think this whole thing will depend on voter turnout."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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