Challenger counting on 'high energy' GOP candidate Fox is running for Lorsung's council seat

'District needs a voice'

Some Democrats decry what they see as lack of team effort

October 28, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The way Howard County Council candidate Greg Fox figures it, if there's any chance for a young Republican to win in old Democratic Columbia, he'll be the one who does it Tuesday.

Of course, that's a big if: 60-year-old District 4 Democrat Mary C. Lorsung represents the most Democratic council district in the county -- 53 percent Democrat to just more than 30 percent Republican -- and many of those Democrats are voters from her generation who moved to Columbia a quarter-century ago.

Still, Fox thinks he has a chance in large part because he is "high energy" and Lorsung is "low key." Lorsung sees herself as an active behind-the-scenes facilitator, helping communities help themselves. Fox sees himself as more outspoken.

"I really feel that this district needs a voice," says Fox, 31. "On major issues, you ought to be out there and be a voice."

He's talking about how the two would differ on the council, but he might as well be talking about how he and Lorsung, and their respective parties, have approached local campaigns this year.

In council races, as in the county executive's race, Republican candidates have done a better job of raising money and seeking publicity than their Democratic counterparts. The result is that Republicans are perceived to have taken the lead on one of the most critical suburban concerns, growth, while the Democrats have failed to take full advantage of the education issue, which could have been a winner for them after last spring's heated budget battle between GOP leaders and the school system.

In an election year in which Democrats hope to regain control of the County Council -- all three Republican council incumbents are leaving office while both Democratic incumbents are running again -- some Democrats wish the party had done more.

"I would have liked to have had more exposure, quite honestly," said District 5 Democratic contender Debra Ann Slack Katz, who is waging an uphill battle in a conservative district against Republican candidate Allan Kittleman, son of well-known Del. Robert H. Kittleman. "It concerns me that [Republicans] did have this exposure and these press conferences and we seem to be late on the draw."

Pushing messages

Republicans have held several news conferences to push their messages on issues such as growth and education, packaging their candidacies as a team with GOP county executive candidate Dennis R. Schrader. Two Republicans, Kittleman and Ellicott City candidate Christopher J. Merdon, have scored points with slow-growth supporters by rejecting campaign contributions from developers and outlining positions on how to better manage growth. Schrader and the five GOP council candidates can credit their coordinated message in no small measure to having a shared political consultant, former local party chief Carol Arscott.

Meanwhile, without a central organizing force, Democratic council candidates have taken the low-key tack of Lorsung. Party leaders have not organized the candidates as a team with the Democratic county executive nominee, James N. Robey -- though today they are expected to do so at their first joint news conference, six days before the election.

Until now, the candidates have delivered their message mostly when they are asked to respond to opponents. They have campaigned separately, and for the most part quietly, in their respective districts.

"They have missed an opportunity here," says Robert Ardinger, an adjunct professor of political science at Howard Community College.

TV ads

The notable exception is District 3 candidate Guy Guzzone, the Democrats' hope to regain a majority on the council. The Kings Contrivance Democrat is running television advertising on local cable, sending out numerous mailings to voters in the southeastern Howard district and knocking on perhaps more doors than any other council candidate. He says he also has sent roughly 2,000 personalized notes to voters he has visited, often updating them on what he's done about neighborhood concerns.

"This is by far the hardest thing I've ever worked at in all my life," Guzzone said.

Guzzone needs to work that hard because he is facing a relatively well-known opponent, Republican Wanda Hurt, a longtime community activist who has served on the Columbia Council and who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the

House of Delegates in 1994. Hurt's name recognition, moderate politics and allegiance with the district's outgoing council member, Schrader, gave her a head-start in a race that is expected to be close, and like Guzzone, she is an extremely active campaigner.

In contrast to Kittleman and Merdon, though, she has been less specific on issues, allowing Guzzone to grab attention with proposals on managing growth and increasing compensation for police officers. Hurt also says she wants to better manage residential growth, but she has generally shied away from details, saying she'd prefer to study the issue further once elected.

Education

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