School board campaigning in high gear

Candidates for 2 seats strive to stand out in field of 18 hopefuls

Primary is March 7

Web sites, forums, street corners being used to meet voters

February 02, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

With five weeks to go before they face voters, Howard County's school board candidates are waving on street corners, calling on volunteers, making home visits and filling their campaign coffers.

It's a race to be noticed and gain support before the March 7 primary, which will whittle the field of 18 to four. The general election in November will determine who fills the two board seats that are up for grabs.

This month will be busy for the candidates. At least seven forums and endorsement meetings are planned -- three in one week.

But not everyone is campaigning. One candidate has unofficially dropped out of the race. Columbia resident Cheri J. Herschman, 26, decided that she could not campaign effectively while finishing the final semester of a master's degree program.

Her name will remain on the ballot because the deadline for withdrawing from the race was Jan. 6, according to the county Board of Elections. Herschman said she plans to run again in the next school board election.

Other candidates are trying a variety of strategies to introduce themselves and their ideas to the public -- from Web pages to mailings.

Several, including Jerry D. Johnston and Daniel M. Dotson, have sites on the Internet detailing their platforms, and others, like Allen Dyer, are creating Web sites.

Others are handing out fliers and business cards, standing on street corners and waving to passers-by, meeting with groups of residents and attending the candidate forums. Ellicott City resident Michael F. Katz, 32, plans to run advertisements in local newspapers.

Some board hopefuls have raised close to $1,000 each in campaign funds. But not Glenn Amato, a candidate from Hanover.

"I've already turned down funds," he said. "I don't want to feel indebted to anyone. It's a nonpartisan election."

Some candidates are drawing on networks of people familiar with them -- a strategy they believe is increasingly important with the crowded field.

Ellicott City resident Melody J. Higgins, 42, thinks her involvement with more than a half-dozen Howard County groups, from the Columbia Democratic Club to the Howard County Social Services Advisory Board, helps her campaign.

"People just know me," she said.

Candidate Patricia S. Gordon, a member of the League of Women Voters and other activist groups, said she found people ready and willing to make phone calls, write letters or work the polls on her behalf.

Dotson, who is active in special-education and disabilities groups, including the Arc of Howard County, sent out a mailing to others with an interest in those subjects. It's part of his strategy for building a "base."

"That's going to be important with so many people running," he said.

Candidate Stephen Swanhart, a contractor who specializes in roofing, is reaching out to the business community as well as parents. One of his priorities is improving vocational training in the schools, he says.

"I think I see a bigger picture of what it's all about, and how the education system affects everyone in society," said the Mount Airy resident.

Candidates say the main issues of the campaign so far -- raised by themselves and the public -- include equity, redistricting, open enrollment, crowded schools, teacher salaries and accountability.

"The problems are all obvious," said Katz. "It's just the solutions are a little different."

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