Council's Guzzone set for District 3 challenge

GOP's Halpin, Wilson compete for chance to unseat incumbent

Election 2002

August 06, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As the only Howard County Council Democrat seeking a new term, Guy J. Guzzone has the luxury of watching two Republicans compete in the primary for the District 3 nomination while he goes for the November gold.

Either Republican B. Diane Wilson, 52, or Kirk J. Halpin, 32, could be a formidable rival for the one-term, 38-year-old incumbent in a redrawn district that elected a Republican eight years ago.

And if the GOP can capture the southeastern county seat again, the Republicans likely would regain control of the five-member County Council. That's why, Guzzone said, he is campaigning hard now - spending 20 to 30 hours a week knocking on doors.

"I'll cover the entire district, the way I did last time," he said.

The two Republicans are mindful of that, too, which is why both said they are seeking a variety of voters, not just Republicans, likely to cast ballots in the primary.

"I'm trying to get hold of everyone I can talk to. The time between Sept. 10 and Nov. 5 is very tight," Halpin said.

Wilson, who lives in Owen Brown, said, "I'm knocking on Democrats', independents' and Republicans' doors. So far, the response has been quite positive."

Since redistricting this year, the southeastern county district covers Owen Brown, Kings Contrivance, Savage and North Laurel. It shifted a bit farther north into Owen Brown - ceding some ground east of U.S. 29 and near the Prince George's County line.

Nearly 51 percent of registered voters are Democrats, with Republicans at 30 percent and independents at 16 percent.

The past is much in evidence this year, with former District 3 Councilman Dennis R. Schrader backing Wilson, his former council aide.

State Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, his wife, is also campaigning with Wilson as she seeks a full, four-year term in the General Assembly from the same area. Schrader was appointed to the Senate in January to succeed Martin G. Madden, who resigned.

Wilson "did an extraordinary job for me. She would do a fantastic job" on the council, Dennis Schrader said. Wilson also served on the county panel that redrew council district boundaries last year.

Late entry

"I got into this race late. I never expected to go into politics," said Wilson, a former real estate agent who works with Dennis Schrader at the University of Maryland Medical System.

Halpin, a real estate and business lawyer at the Baltimore law firm of Rosenberg, Proutt, Funk and Greenberg, ran for County Council four years ago; he received 29 percent of the vote, losing to Wanda Hurt.

This time, Halpin began campaigning much earlier, he said, and he is in his second term on the Columbia Council, representing the 11,000 residents of Kings Contrivance.

"I've met with all the elementary, middle and high school principals [in the district], and almost all 20 nonprofits in the county," he said. "I've started to reach out to the faith-based community. I want to find out their issues and concerns."

Higher pay for county teachers is one issue everyone seems to agree on this year, though no one has a firm plan for how to the pay the bill.

Wilson talked about eliminating waste in the county budget to get the money, but at $2.5 million for each 1 percent increase, the cost may be too steep for that. "Raising taxes is not the answer," she told the county African American Coalition at a recent candidates forum.

Halpin said he, too, wants to see teachers' salaries raised, but he also is opposed to raising taxes. Still, he said, there may be ways to provide other perks and incentives - such as reduced-price housing or discounts for Columbia Association memberships.

Guzzone said he also believes teachers should have a pay raise, but, again, suggested no specific source of money.

Maple Lawn issue fades

The candidates agreed the controversy over development exemplified by Maple Lawn Farms - one of three large, mixed-use projects slated for the southeastern county - has faded as an issue.

Guzzone's role on the county Zoning Board (composed of County Council members) in approving a development plan in 2000 for the project caused a fuss because development foes thought he sided with business interests on the final vote.

The councilman said a few voters he has encountered have asked him about the pace of development, but appeared to be seeking basic information. He has responded by telling them the new General Plan cut the maximum allowable number of new homes from 2,500 a year in the 1990s to an average of 1,500 a year through 2020, and they seemed satisfied.

The Republicans think the Maple Lawn controversy is over, too.

"It's a done deal and there isn't anything anyone can do to prevent the project from going forward," Halpin said.

Wilson said she believes Guzzone "sent the wrong message" and went against his slow-growth image from the 1998 campaign. But, she added, "I don't expect that [Maple Lawn] to be a focus of the campaign."

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