The question of whether slot machines should be at Maryland race tracks sharply divided Democrats seeking General Assembly seats representing Howard County at a candidates forum held last night by the Columbia Democratic Club.
Slots are "inevitable" for state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, but Del. Elizabeth Bobo is "absolutely opposed." Although state Senate candidate C. Vernon Gray and delegate hopeful Neil F. Quinter feel slots are necessary for Maryland's racing industry, they are a big no-no to state Sen. Arthur Dorman and Walter Carson, who is running in western Howard County.
FOR THE RECORD - A story on Democratic political candidates published in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly reported the position of Neil F. Quinter, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 13, on making slot machines legal at Maryland racetracks. Quinter is undecided. The Sun regrets the error.
Others, such as Dels. Frank S. Turner, Shane Pendergrass and delegate candidate Ada Bohorfoush, think the public should decide in a referendum.
"We need to fund Thornton," Turner said, referring to the $1.3 billion education-aid plan approved with partial funding this year.
But Bobo said lower-income people who play slot machines should not be paying for education in one of the wealthiest, best-educated states in the nation.
Del. John A. Giannetti Jr., who is seeking Dorman's Senate seat, said they are "not evil," and he leans toward supporting them.
In Southern Maryland, where he grew up, Gray noted he played slot machines before they were outlawed. Now, they are needed to prop up the racing industry, he said.
"Who plays lottery?" he asked, noting that the bulk of the money comes from Baltimore and Prince George's County. "The well-to-do only play it when it [the jackpot] gets to $14 million."
Destroying the myth that Democrats are ideologically of one mind, the candidates often divided on other questions - such aid to private schools, abortion, and smoke-free restaurants and bars.
An undercurrent throughout the evening was the candidates' uncertainty over the eventual shape of Maryland's General Assembly districts.
The Maryland Court of Appeals this week threw out the map drawn by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, vowing to redraw Maryland's district boundaries.
Giannetti joked several times about running in "District 21- slash - 13 - slash whatever," and others expressed unease, too.
Dorman, whose Senate District 21 would cover a sliver of Howard County along the Patuxent River under the plan the court has struck down, took a pragmatic view.
"The map we gave to the judges is the map we'll live with until they change it," he said, adding that he will continue to campaign in Howard County in the meantime.
Last night's meeting of the Columbia Democratic Club at Jeffers Hill Community Center was the latest in a series of forums the club has held for Democrats running for office. Club endorsements should come next month.
The District 13 contest for the state Senate, pitting Gray against newly appointed Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader promises the most fireworks, though Democrats seeking seats in the House of Delegates are scuffling with each other. Republicans Bob Adams and Mary Beth Tung are also running for the House of Delegates.
Bobo, Turner and Pendergrass are seeking re-election, and newcomers Quinter, a former club president, and Bohorfoush, a community activist in North Laurel, are vying for a seat. Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, who ran and lost a House of Delegates race in 1994, joined the forum, said she likely wouldrun again this year in District 13.
Competition for backing among the Democrats has created a split. Quinter is backed by Gray and Turner, who also endorse him. Quinter has excluded Pendergrass from his events. She is sticking to her promise to remain neutral in the primary.
But Giannetti may stir the pot even more, depending on what the court decides. He said on a Baltimore radio talk show yesterday that, with a back yard full of Senate campaign signs, if his home is retained in District 13, he could well run for re-election there instead.