`My obligation is to question everything'

Profile: Skepticism that won political upstart an Arundel council seat also draws criticism.

July 27, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

She was being duped.

That's what Anne Arundel County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk feared last week as she stared at the proposal on her desk -- a document so thick and impenetrable it might as well have been written in Greek.

Hundreds of pages and dozens of maps set out a blueprint for how the county would distribute water and collect sewage over the next 20 years. Samorajczyk feared it could swing open the door for development.

"I've spent an unbelievable number of hours going through this, but I see that as my obligation," she said. "My obligation is to question everything."

Nine months after voters in Anne Arundel and Howard counties rallied behind her and other upstart candidates determined to halt the march of shopping malls and subdivisions, the newcomer from Annapolis has established her- self as a thorn in developers' sides.

In her short time on the Anne Arundel council, Samorajczyk has taken heat for being a nuisance. She's been criticized for blindly opposing development. She's been attacked for seeing conspiracies where others saw none.

That's all fine with her.

"It's exactly what I was elected to do," she said.

Samorajczyk, a 52-year-old lawyer who moved to Maryland four years ago, entered the race for council last year as a virtual newcomer. She had few links to the region's political machinery, had made a sudden switch from Republican to Democrat, and thought her chances of winning were slim.

But she was highly motivated by her belief that builders had cultivated such cozy relationships with county officials that projects were being approved with little scrutiny. At a time when outsiders were building campaigns by attacking suburban sprawl, her campaign caught fire.

She unseated William C. Mulford II, by 2,000 votes, and joined five other novices in overturning the council's Republican majority.

Since taking office, Samorajczyk has persuaded the council to redraw boundaries of the Parole Town Center, thwarting a construction project planned nearby. She attacked -- in a series of failed amendments -- the county executive's budget for funding a major road expansion in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Gingerville.

She openly criticized changes to the county's development plan that added roads for the Arundel Mills megamall. And 13 times, she has been on the losing end of 6-1 or 5-2 votes.

Her political style, as much as her platform, has generated a decidedly mixed response. At public hearings, she has bored into county workers with her stare, grilling them on specifics and questioning their findings. In budget negotiations with County Executive Janet S. Owens, who shares many of her slow-growth views, Samorajczyk refused to budge on her stand against the road expansion in Gingerville.

Some, like Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., credit her for speaking out.

"She digs her heels in and follows her beliefs, and I admire that," Klosterman said. "She has the ability to stand up and take the heat, even if it doesn't always get her what she wants."

But others, even some who said they voted for her and support her agenda, worry she has become too strident to be effective.

"She's done a lot of screaming and shouting and finger-pointing and accusing, but there hasn't been a whole lot done," said James R. Martin Jr., 51, a self-employed Annapolis printer. "I believe she's capable of doing things right, but her style, her temperament, suggest she doesn't understand the political process."

In part, that might stem from the fact that Samorajczyk has limited political experience.

The daughter of an Air Force officer, she was raised in a small Nebraska town. Her first career was as a homemaker and occasional decorator. In 1968, she married a Navy cadet, James H. Webb Jr.

Almost immediately, Webb was sent to Vietnam. He was decorated for valor, but received a cool reception as a veteran of an unpopular war. He wrote an acclaimed novel about the experience, "Fields of Fire," and was named secretary of the Navy in 1987.

She persuaded him to attend law school, then followed him through the program. Soon after graduating from Georgetown Law School, she and Webb separated. They divorced in 1982. That same year she married Washington attorney Stan Samorajczyk.

It wasn't until 1994, when she moved with her husband to a waterfront home on the Annapolis Neck that she become interested in local government.

The spark, she says, occurred when a neighbor announced plans to build two houses on a small marshy lot. After digging into the details, she felt she had uncovered flaws in the way the project had been approved.

"I just expected things would get fixed," she said. "But they stonewalled me."

In that fight, which reduced the number of houses to one, her anti-growth campaign was born.

"I think if they had treated me with some respect, and hadn't blown me off, I would have probably just gone on my merry way," she said.

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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