An interest in service draws Vitale

New councilwoman finds her calling early

February 06, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

In a sense, Republican Cathleen M. Vitale's journey to the Anne Arundel County Council began more than a quarter-century ago on a street corner in Copiague, N.Y., a quiet Long Island town near the water.

Just 9 or 10 years old at the time, Vitale handed out fliers and talked up the virtues of a man named Vinny Manna, who was running for a seat on the Suffolk County Council.

All Vitale knew about Manna was that her father, a dedicated Republican, supported him. But the experience, she recalled recently, helped spark a lifelong interest in public service.

"I have always known I would be in a service-oriented business one way or another," Vitale said Thursday, two days after the council chose her as the 5th District's representative to replace Cliff R. Roop, who died Jan. 3.

In the next three years, Vitale, who has lived in Severna Park since 1974, will get a chance to put that commitment into practice. She will be sworn in at the start of tomorrow's council meeting, before a possible vote on proposed new zoning definitions in commercial and industrial districts.

Her new colleagues -- who selected her over 11 other candidates in a secret ballot -- say they look forward to seeing firsthand Vitale's enthusiasm for the $28,660-a-year job. They celebrated her selection at the Ram's Head Tavern after Tuesday's meeting.

"She's a ball of fire," said Councilman John J. Klocko III, the only other Republican on the seven-member council.

Vitale, 35, a lawyer specializing in mediation, does not pretend to know all the answers. She talks about balancing development with the concerns of residents and the protection of the environment -- and quickly concedes achieving that goal won't be easy.

"I do believe the balance exists," she said. "It's a tough task, but if you put your mind there, you can find it."

She is similarly noncommittal yet optimistic about finding solutions to congestion on clogged arteries such as Benfield Road, College Parkway and Ritchie Highway. Diverting cars onto other roads might help, she said, but there is no "quick fix."

Her other priorities include finding a way to reduce school crowding and exploring the continuation of hiker-biker trails on the Broadneck Peninsula.

She says she will, with a fact-finding mission to hear from residents of the densely populated Severna Park and the more rural Broadneck Peninsula. Despite the demands of a 3-year-old son, she plans to be available whenever constituents want to bend her ear.

"I want everybody to feel they can pick up the phone and tell me about a problem and not worry someone is going to consider it not worthy of being investigated," she said.

Vitale (pronounced vi-TAL-lee) lost to Roop by 327 votes in the 1998 primary. Her showing in that race made a difference to council members reviewing the list of 12 aspirants for Roop's seat.

"When you've had to go out and run in a contest and put a lot of blood and sweat into it, it shows you have a commitment," said Councilman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr.

Vitale picked up a number of endorsements along the way, including that of the Maryland State Teachers Association -- a rarity for a Republican.

Vitale's selection pleased the new president of the Greater Severna Park Council, an umbrella group of community organizations representing about 10,000 families. Eric Neseth said he does not know Vitale well but likes what he has heard so far.

Neseth was disappointed when Roop recently pushed for a zoning change on behalf of a constituent who wanted permission to store produce. Neseth called the case "clearly a case of spot zoning."

"I would hope and expect that sort of thing would not happen with Cathy," Neseth said.

Said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle: "I think she'll be less single-interest than listener of the whole."

Vitale said she will approach the job with the same energy and dedication as Roop did during his year in office.

Vitale has been involved in the county's Republican Party for several years and currently chairs the county's Republican State Central Committee, a post she said she will soon leave.

She pledged to avoid any conflicts of interest on the council. Because her husband, Mark Muckelbauer, is an Anne Arundel County firefighter, she said, "If it involves the fire department, it won't involve me."

The same goes for issues that involve her legal clients, she said. But she foresees few problems since her practice focuses on family and civil litigation. If anything, she said, her experience as a professional mediator should come in handy on the council.

"Issues by their very nature have an emotional component to them," she said. "When people sit down to listen to each other and really hear the reasoning behind a position, it helps that solution process."

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