Helton for Harford executive Sun endorsement: He has better background for job than opponent, whose primary tactics disappointed.

October 20, 1998

THE RACE for Harford County's next executive pits a name from the county's political past against one from its political present.

Arthur Henry Helton, 60, the Democratic candidate, was a member of Harford's first County Council in the 1970s and a state senator from 1975 to 1983. In the 1990s, he ran twice for council president and lost.

James M. Harkins, 44, the Republican candidate, is a county deputy sheriff. He recently completed his second term as a state delegate in District 35A and is respected by lawmakers of both parties. Like Mr. Helton, he has actively campaigned for executive for the past year, knowing that Eileen M. Rehrmann could not seek a third term.

Both men are very credible candidates. Their views on the issues are alike. They agree that Harford, the fourth-fastest-growing county in the state in the 1990s, must do better to control growth, perhaps with a more stringent adequate facilities law. Both concur that the county must be more committed to a remedy for crowded schools and other infrastructure needs.

Mr. Helton proposes a five-year capital spending plan to address school crowding, especially in the county's "development envelope." Mr. Harkins says his first priority would be to create a major recreational park in the dense Route 24 corridor; indeed, Ms. Rehrmann's inability to help cultivate a sense of cohesion in the new bedroom community was probably her biggest disappointment.

The candidates' views are so similar, when we asked each, for fun, to list his five favorite movies, two choices were identical: "Gettysburg" and "Apollo 13." Even their birthdays are only days apart. They sound alike, so who to choose?

We endorse Mr. Helton for two reasons.

First, his professional background. Opening three Western Auto parts shops and other businesses prepares him for the executive's job. Mr. Harkins has not run a business or government entity. The county executive's office, responsible for a $300 million budget, is a bad place for on-the-job training.

Second, Mr. Harkins' campaign last month to defeat Sen. David R. Craig for the Republican nomination troubled not only us, but even some members of his own party. He tarred Mr. Craig as "pro-growth," even though Mr. Harkins himself received more developer contributions. He touted the fact that his district had fewer building permits than Mr. Craig's. Aside from the fact that state lawmakers have nothing to do with local construction permits, Mr. Harkins' comparison of his rural north county base with Mr. Craig's district along busy Interstate 95 was disingenuous.

If voters are as tired of politicians doing and saying whatever it takes to win as they often say they are, they should choose Mr. Helton on Nov. 3.

Tomorrow: Howard executive

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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