Persistent Jones runs again for commissioner, this time as Republican

Union Bridge mayor finds wide support in Carroll

August 18, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The day he finished fifth in the 1998 Carroll County commissioner election, Perry L. Jones Jr. already knew he would run again in four years.

He didn't expect to win the first time, he said, because running for office is as much an act of persistence as anything else.

And Jones, the Union Bridge mayor and Carroll's only black elected official, is a persistent man. He has lived within the same 5-mile radius for all of his 50 years, worked at the same auto garage for 37 years and served in the same town government for 22 years.

Not to say that Jones never changes. The leading vote-getter among Democrats in 1998 is running as a Republican this year.

Some county political observers questioned the switch, saying Jones would be buried in a Republican primary field that includes the three incumbents and 10 candidates total. But Jones has raised about $15,000 for the race - more than any of his fellow challengers.

"Yeah, I'm surprised," he said when asked about his successful fund raising. "We're going along pretty good, probably better than I expected."

Most of Jones' contributions have come in chunks of $200 or less from individuals or businesses owned by longtime supporters.

He has received financial support from fellow auto mechanics, Carroll's farmland preservation director Bill Powel and Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning.

In an interview Thursday at his service station in Union Bridge, Jones said he's the same candidate with the backing of a different party. He made the switch, he said, because his thinking no longer jibes with many Democratic ideas and because he thinks the Republicans run a more organized party in Carroll.

For example, the 30-year member of the National Rifle Association got tired of hearing Democrats pooh-pooh his pro-gun beliefs.

"I like to hunt, I like to target shoot and I like to protect my family," he said. "I want to be in a political party where I can feel comfortable saying those things."

When asked whether a primary defeat might make him regret switching, he paused for a long time before saying, "No, I'm comfortable where I am."

Jones is the rare candidate who seems respected by people on both sides of Carroll's political spectrum.

Conservative candidate Ed Primoff said that he considers Jones a "decent guy who's trying to do what's right" and wouldn't mind seeing him as commissioner.

Those on the other side said much the same.

"I could work with Perry," said Jeannie Nichols, a Democratic candidate whose ideas are about as far from Primoff's as possible.

Jones was born in Johnsville, about four miles from Union Bridge. He inherited his political gene from his father Perry L. "Tuck" Jones Sr., who was a member of Union Bridge's Town Council.

When Tuck Jones died in 1980 with a year left on his council term, the council asked his son to fill in. Perry Jones agreed, and ran for a seat the next year. He won and went on to be elected mayor in 1990.

He has been known as one of Carroll's most approachable politicians, passing most days at the garage in his blue work shirt with "Perry" stitched over the right pocket, fielding questions about the town as easily as he changes a fan belt.

The biggest challenge Jones faced as mayor in the past year arose when the State Highway Department tried to take away Union Bridge's one traffic light, an unpopular idea for most town residents.

Jones thought the town could stand to test a yellow flashing light, but he bowed to public opinion and asked state officials to leave the light on. So far, they have.

He emphasizes in campaign talks that he has always gotten along with other mayors and county leaders.

Jones said the idea of running for commissioner came out of standing around the service station, shooting the breeze about politics with friends. As mayor, Jones has dealt with the commissioners often enough to think he could be one.

Others agreed. He ran in 1998 not so much to win as to get his name in circulation. This year's election ultimately might serve the same purpose, he said, noting that three-term incumbent Donald I. Dell didn't win until his third commissioner race.

Unlike many candidates, Jones doesn't launch into inflated discourses on the majesty of democracy when asked why he wants the job so much. "It's just about being there to represent people and help them," he said.

Though Union Bridge has only about 1,000 residents, Jones said many of the problems he has dealt with as mayor are the same as problems he would confront as a commissioner.

Like almost all of the candidates, Jones lists growth as the county's biggest problem.

The solution is simple, he said - the commissioners must enforce the laws they have to prevent homes from being built ahead of schools, water supplies and sewer lines. Union Bridge has never allowed construction before having the infrastructure to serve it, he said.

Jones also said the county should shift more of its school funds from administrative salaries to classroom materials.

The teachers he has talked to aren't as worried about crowded classrooms as they are about not having enough books or supplies for every child, he said.

Jones said he doesn't think race will inhibit his election chances. Though Carroll's population is less than 4 percent black and former state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon is the only prominent black politician ever produced by the county, Jones said people rarely mention his skin color when they talk politics.

"I think, or I hope, that race doesn't present much of an issue in Carroll County anymore," he said. "It's not something I hear about much. Most people just want good, clean government."

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