Growth was the pivotal issue in yesterday's election for Harford County executive, as both candidates -- Democrat Arthur H. Helton and Republican James M. Harkins -- struggled to convince voters that they could best manage development in the burgeoning suburban county.
Helton, a 60-year-old businessman and former state senator, and Harkins, a 44-year-old deputy sheriff and two-term state delegate, sought to succeed Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann, who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor but dropped out of the race shortly before the primary. Rehrmann was prohibited by charter from seeking a third term as county executive.
With the county of more than 200,000 growing each year, residents complain about crowded schools, lack of open space and congested roadways.
The contest between Harkins and Helton also was seen as a test of whether the historically conservative county would elect its first Republican county executive. Where once Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2-to-1, party numbers have shifted in recent years as new residents flooded the county.
Harkins said he has a more organized agenda to cope with the county's growing pains than does his opponent.
"We've indicated that we have plans to deal with issues like growth, public safety and education," Harkins said. "We ran a very positive campaign based on the issues, unlike my opponent."
But Helton, who owns a Western Auto store in Aberdeen, has accused Harkins of being unduly influenced by developers, who many anti-growth activists feel have contributed to the county's problems.
"I think I have identified myself as the candidate who has the tools and the expertise to address the issues," said Helton, referring to his business background. "My opponent is in the hip pocket of those we need to put the clamp on."
In his campaign, Helton proposed a five-year capital spending plan to address school crowding, and a zoning classification to attract high-paying industrial jobs.
Helton -- who left office in 1983 and made two failed runs for County Council in the 1990s -- also said he would slow residential growth while stimulating the county's economy by working with businesses.
Harkins pledged to lure high-tech businesses to the U.S. 40 corridor, which runs from Joppatowne to Havre de Grace. He would create a "Route 40 Technology Parkway," and create a position of director of technology transfer with the Department of Economic Development to oversee the project.
To deal with growth, he proposed a plan called "Holding Our Ground," which would focus on preserving farmland through use of agricultural easements. Harkins also said he planned to purchase open space areas using the county's amusement tax.
On the legislative front, Democrat Mary-Dulany James -- daughter of the late William S. James, a state treasurer and Senate president -- was among the Democrats seeking three open House of Delegates seats in the 34th District, along with B. Daniel Riley and Robin Walter.
The three faced off against Republicans Charles A. Boutin -- former Aberdeen mayor -- and Robert E. Shaffner and Michael Griffin.
In District 35A, Republicans Joanne S. Parrott, Barry Glassman and Rocky Gonzalez faced two Democrats, Michael Comeau and Lee McDaniel, for the two open House of Delegates seats.
In the District 34 state Senate race, Democrat Mary Louise Preis faced Republican Nancy S. Jacobs, currently a member of the House of Delegates.
Harford voters were also to decide the fate of the county's comprehensive rezoning plan. Comprehensive rezoning occurs every eight years in Harford and allows property owners to request a change for their land.
The latest comprehensive rezoning bill was approved by the County Council in September after nearly a year of hearings and study. A group of dissatisfied residents organized a petition drive to place the rezoning plan on the ballot as Question A.
A separate attempt to slow growth failed when a Harford County Circuit Court judge in September struck down a ballot item -- Question C -- that would have placed a one-year moratorium on residential development. The judge's ruling was upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
In other local races, Republican Mark S. Decker, 38, was challenging Democrat Gunther Hirsch, 72, for County Council president. Decker, a first-term member of the council, owns a liquor store in Bel Air. Hirsch, a retired physician, is a former mayor and council member in Havre de Grace.
In the County Council's District A, Republican incumbent Susan B. Heselton ran against Democrat Christopher Clark Boardman.
In District B, Republican incumbent Veronica L. Chenowith was challenged by Democrat Valerie H. Twanmoh, an attorney.
Pub Date: 11/04/98