Democrats battle in 4th District race

Anne Arundel

August 30, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

When Crownsville resident Terry Wilson decided to take on Anne Arundel County Council member Bill D. Burlison in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, he knew he could never match the ex-congressman's door-to-door campaign style or financial backing.

Still, Wilson was determined to get his message out.

"I just want to be more responsive and accountable to the people," said Wilson, 54, a former county police officer trying to be the second African-American elected to the council.

Wilson has accused Burlison of taking orders from County Executive Janet S. Owens instead of from constituents.

"He hasn't been independent," Wilson said of Burlison, who represented Missouri in Congress for six terms until he lost his seat in 1980 after being accused of adultery.

Burlison, who denies the accusation, returned to politics, albeit at a much more local level, four years ago. Since then Burlison, who was elected council chairman last year, has frustrated some district residents who say he has failed to represent them at the Arundel Center.

Burlison said that anyone who says he isn't responsive hasn't been paying close attention.

"My performance during the past four years has earned my re-election," Burlison said. "I am known in the county as the No. 1 door-knocker. Next time Mr. Wilson mentions that argument, ask him how many doors he has knocked on."

Recently, Burlison noted, it was he who convinced Owens to withdraw a bill that would have allowed catered special events to be held in residential areas. Homeowners, especially those in Burlison's district, decried the bill, saying that it would allow raucous weddings and other commercial activities in residential settings.

"I was upholding what appeared to be the preference of most of my constituents," Burlison said of his decision to go to Owens to talk about the bill.

Burlison said he wants to serve another four years on the council to keep tabs on major projects such as construction of a new library and extension of a popular hiking and biking trail, both in Odenton.

The projects - which have been years in the making - broke ground recently.

If Burlison's recent campaign finance report is any indication of how the election will go, he may get his wish.

With Owens' support, the council chairman has amassed a considerable amount - about $39,000 in the four years since he was elected.

Burlison, an attorney, has loaned his campaign $4,000 and has received hefty contributions from fellow Democrat Owens, who gave $2,500, and Annapolis developer Robert DeStefano, who gave $1,000.

Burlison, who at 71 still runs three-mile road races, walks every neighborhood in his district. He catalogs the name of everyone he meets, as well as birthdays and pets' names.

His tireless door-knocking paid off in 1998 when he beat incumbent Bert L. Rice, a retired Army colonel and popular Odenton resident who later admitted that he grossly underestimated Burlison's door-stoop charm.

Wilson says he has tried to match Burlison at the door mat but hasn't had time to do as much neighborhood walking as he would like.

Wilson, who worked for the county Police Department for 21 years in a variety of positions, including vice and narcotics officer, currently works as a security manager for a local bank.

"I work all day," Wilson said, adding that since Burlison is self-employed, and virtually retired, he can set aside more time for precinct walking.

Instead, Wilson said he has tried to make as many community meetings as possible.

His political platform is heavy on personal service, which, Wilson says, Burlison isn't providing.

"Anything I can do to support the people, I will do," Wilson said.

Wilson has said he would hold the school system accountable for the way it spends taxpayer dollars. He said he would go to the newspapers if the Board of Education misappropriated funds or came up short of cash to cover expenses.

"I have nothing to hide," said Wilson, who together with other residents formed the now-defunct West County Citizens for Accountable Government to deal with Burlison and access issues. "I want to tell people what is happening in their communities."

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