Pointed differences in 4th District County Council race Incumbent's opponent also criticizes Gary

October 27, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

At first glance, the County Council race in the 4th District looks like the battle of the tweed jackets.

Incumbent Republican Bert L. Rice and his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Rep. Bill D. Burlison, are conservative-dressing, slow-talking politicians seeking to represent one of the fastest-growing areas of the county. The district stretches from Maryland City to Sherwood Forest and includes Odenton, Gambrills, Severn and Millersville.

These rivals come from very different backgrounds, though.

Burlison, who was voted out of office in Missouri in 1980 and hasn't won an election in Maryland since he began trying 16 years ago, is finger-jabbing at his opponent and talking forcefully about such issues as public pensions and nepotism on the County Council.

Rice points to four years of securing money for such construction projects as the Maryland City public library, which recently opened.

He has skirted controversies that could hurt him, such as the closing of the Naval Academy dairy farm, by focusing on issues outside the district, such as a proposed auto racetrack in Pasadena.

Burlison, a longtime U.S. representative from Missouri, left his home state in 1980 after a defeat critics said was caused by allegations in local newspapers of political favoritism and adultery. He mailed hundreds of $12 checks to voters shortly before the 1980 election, prompting his political foes to label him "Twelve-Dollar Bill." Several newspapers demanded his resignation.

Burlison has said the checks were meant to pay for campaign work and were legal under Missouri election laws. He said there was "no substance at all" to the allegations and attributed the loss to what he has called "the great Reagan landslide of 1980."

Since then, the former Marine, 66, has tried to revive his political career in local governments far from southeastern Missouri. He was defeated in races for the Prince George's County Council in 1982, the House of Delegates from Anne Arundel's 33rd District in 1986 and 1990, and the Anne Arundel County Council from the 4th District four years ago.

In his campaign literature, Burlison accuses County Executive John G. Gary and Councilman George F. Bachman of nepotism, because each has "a spouse that works directly for or under the elected official" and who makes "considerably more than the elected officials as well as qualifying for a pension."

The council passed an anti-nepotism bill this year, and Bachman, a Democrat, fired his wife, Anna, who was his paid legislative assistant, after an ethics commission advised he do so. Ruthanne Gary, the Republican county executive's wife, was hired as director of community services by Robert R. Neall, her husband's predecessor.

Burlison proposes getting rid of the county's Washington lobbyist, but the county canceled its contract with the lobbying firm Waterman & Associates in March.

Burlison blames Rice for the downgrading of Fort Meade's Kimbrough Hospital, the loss of the dairy farm and the inclusion of Fort Meade on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list of the worst polluters. He said he would have asked the U.S. secretary of defense for help in maintaining Kimbrough and the dairy farm and keeping Fort Meade off the Superfund list.

"I personally know the policy-makers and decision-makers, the top echelon," Burlison said. "Ultimately [Fort Meade's Superfund designation] will mean a degradation of property values. The same thing that is cleaning up Fort Meade, I think could've been accomplished without getting on the Superfund."

He opposes pensions for County Council members and the county executive, and accuses Rice of failing to "move forward" on several west county construction projects such as a regional library, Odenton Town Center and an additional high school.

"If there's been something done, it's not nearly enough, and I think I could've been helpful in that process," Burlison said.

He also is critical of a recent salary increase for the council and the executive based in part on salaries in surrounding jurisdictions. The same council deemed those comparisons unnecessary when negotiating the pay of police officers and firefighters.

Rice called Burlison's claims of federal influence "goofy" and noted that Burlison rarely shows up at community meetings and has never been to a County Council meeting.

"He shows up every four years to run for elective office," Rice said. "A guy whose record is an inch deep and a mile wide. I've got the experience, the knowledge and [have] displayed the leadership."

Rice, a retired Army colonel who has lived in Odenton since 1976, built his political career in his neighborhood community groups, such as the Maple Ridge Homeowners' Association, the Greater Odenton Improvement Association and the Odenton Town Center Growth Management Committee.

While on the council, he has voted for road improvements to ease the development of the Odenton Town Center, obtained money to purchase land for the west county regional library and for other west county construction projects, including four schools.

He said he supports building an additional high school in west county and is awaiting results from a secondary schools study that would give suggestions on where the new school should be built.

He also wants to build branch libraries in Crofton and Odenton.

"You've got to try to manage the growth and bring in the infrastructure with that growth," Rice said.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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