Dell files at last minute to run again

He joins two incumbents, 12 others in race for office

Vying for 3 commissioner seats

July 02, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Donald I. Dell ended weeks of speculation about his political future yesterday when he became the last of three incumbents to join the Carroll commissioners race, which included 15 candidates after last night's filing deadline.

Dell, 77, a Republican, filed with nine hours to spare. "I've just been busy, doing projects around the house and working on county issues, so I haven't had time to organize," he explained.

He said he's seeking a fourth term because he enjoys the daily work of running the county and brings unmatched experience to that task.

"I feel there are still things to be done and that I can still help," he said.

Also filing yesterday to run for commissioner as a Republican was George A. Butler, an investigator for the county state's attorney's office. He, like other challengers in the race, hammered the current commissioners' record on growth issues.

"As a Carroll Countian, I can't say I'm very happy with what's happened over the last four or eight years," said Butler, 46. "The growth is just out of control, and when you look at businesses, they're not coming in fast enough to boost the tax base."

The crowded commissioner field is made up of 10 Republicans, three Democrats, an independent and a Green Party candidate. The Republican primary appears the fiercest battleground in the commissioner race, with many experienced public servants running for the three slots.

County Republican leaders say the large number of primary candidates demonstrates the party's might in Carroll, where it controls all of the offices elected by countywide vote.

"We enjoy seeing these crowded primary fields. It shows how vital the party is here," said Robert Wolfing, chairman of the county's Republican State Central Committee.

But while the crowded field might speak to overall Republican strength, the philosophical differences among the candidates are striking.

The divisions between the party's most conservative candidates - incumbents Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier and Woodbine activist Ed Primoff - and its moderates - incumbent Julia Walsh Gouge, Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones and veteran newspaper columnist Dean L. Minnich - are arguably as pronounced as any between the parties.

Many Carroll conservatives criticize Gouge as a closet Democrat and call her occasional conciliatory remarks about Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening black marks on her record. Gouge and Frazier, the candidate most closely tied to the party structure, have disagreed about almost every major issue that has come before the commissioners over the past four years.

Gouge battled Dell, Frazier and Primoff when she opposed a change in the zoning code last year that many residents and state officials believed would prompt unrestrained residential development across Carroll's rural landscape. Primoff, as part of a committee appointed by the commissioners, helped draft the zoning amendment and planned to apply the new rules in subdividing land that he owned.

Frazier and Dell voted for the changes but eventually backed away and returned the code largely to its original form.

Virtually all candidates and observers agree that both the primary and general elections will be referenda on how Carroll should slow residential growth.

Opinions on growth don't break cleanly along party lines or even moderate-versus-conservative lines. Though Frazier and Dell have generally supported policies that preserve development rights and criticized Glendening's Smart Growth agenda, they've also joined Gouge in advocating growth controls. All three incumbents have faced sharp criticism at times from members of both major parties.

The Republican field did not develop smoothly. Minnich entered first, in January, with a strong burst of criticism for Dell and Frazier's policies. Gouge and Frazier then entered with gala public announcements, Gouge's attended by a coalition of longtime supporters and South Carroll moderates and Frazier's attended by the county's Republican elite.

Next, in a testament to the improbability of a Democrat winning the general election Nov. 5, two former Democrats, Jones and David L. Brauning, county planning commission member, entered the Republican race. Jones, one of the few black officeholders in county history, won the 1998 Democratic primary but fell well short in that year's general election. Brauning has a long history in both the business and farm communities and has emphasized the popular notion that Carroll must remain independent from state Smart Growth policies.

The announcements then stopped for more than a month as local Republicans waited to see whether Dell would file for re-election. Primoff, long a behind-the-scenes adviser to conservatives such as Frazier, made his surprise announcement only a week before the deadline. He said he felt forced to run so he could maintain the conservative integrity of his party's ticket.

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