Maglev, education top issues in 32nd

Republican primary offers little dissent on district's key concerns

Anne Arundel

September 08, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The six Republican candidates vying for three seats representing District 32 in the House of Delegates probably wouldn't have much to discuss in a debate over one of the biggest local issues.

They oppose maglev, the high-speed train proposed to connect Washington and Baltimore that would likely run through parts of the district if it were built. They talk about fixing the education system statewide, one way or another. Most agree that a top priority for whomever takes the seat should be reducing the $1 billion deficit the state faces.

District 32 cuts a diverse and wide swath across Anne Arundel County. It stretches from the suburbs around Baltimore-Washington International Airport to strip-mall heavy Glen Burnie to the fast-growing western suburbs of Odenton and Severn.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's edition of The Sun incorrectly stated the age of Robert G. Pepersack Sr., a District 32 Republican candidate for the House of Delegates. He is 61.
The Sun regrets the error.

Like many suburban voters, district residents worry about growth - at the airport and in the suburbs surrounding Fort Meade - school capacity and health care costs.

But the maglev issue makes the district unique. Hundreds of residents have turned out at meetings in Linthicum and Odenton to hear the Maryland Transit Administration's plan for the train's routes.

The project is expected to cost about $3.8 billion, with Maryland responsible for $500 million. The federal government is deciding whether Baltimore or Pittsburgh ultimately will win the 240-mph train.

The Republican incumbent, James E. Rzepkowski, has been one of maglev's most vocal opponents in the General Assembly. He joined fellow Republicans in an unsuccessful attempt to strip from the budget $2.8 million for a study on the train.

It was a familiar fight for the 31-year-old insurance representative from Glen Burnie - he had sparred with state transportation officials over the expansion of the light rail system in the mid-1990s.

"It seems I've been struggling with the MTA for all eight years of my legislative career," said Rzepkowski, who was elected when he was 22.

Rzepkowski also said he is proud of his record on constituent service and of work on local projects, such as efforts to beautify Route 198 and to bring an aquatics center to Glen Burnie.

Two of Rzepkowski's challengers for the seats are trying to replicate his feat of winning election just a few years after becoming eligible to vote.

Robert Burton, an insurance agent, and David Starr, an engine repairman, are 22. Burton, who lives in Glen Burnie, says he is running because he thinks Annapolis needs a "truly conservative voice."

He said he has gained endorsements from several conservative groups, including Maryland Right to Life and the Maryland Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Starr, who lives in Linthicum, said he thinks voters in the 32nd District need new choices and changes in the way education dollars are spent. He said the large deficit concerns him, and that cutting maglev-related projects would be a step in the right direction.

Also entering politics for the first time is John F. Pilkins Jr., a 58-year-old businessman from Severn. After a career as a telecommunications consultant, Pilkins now owns the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in Crofton. A longtime pilot, he served on the Tipton Airport Authority's board from 1998 until last year.

Pilkins said he joined the race at the encouragement of friends. "When I saw what the legislature did this year in terms of the budget - the pay raises just enraged me," he said.

Pilkins said his expertise in finance and technology would help the legislature get back on track.

Two of the six candidates, Robert G. Pepersack Sr. and David A. Tibbetts, may be familiar to voters. Pepersack, the former Anne Arundel County sheriff, ran for County Council in 1998, losing to Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. Tibbetts, an attorney and former state employee, ran in 1990 for the House of Delegates in Prince George's County and for Orphans' Court judge in 1994 and 1998. He lost all three times.

Pepersack, 67, served as a state trooper for 27 years before he was elected sheriff in 1990. He was unseated by George Johnson in 1994. His critics complained that he overspent his budget and accused him of conducting illegal criminal checks of prospective tenants at his rental properties. Prosecutors criticized him for "questionable use of personnel and possible abuse of authority" for ordering deputies to deliver a summons to help his daughter collect money a tenant owed her.

But prosecutors never charged Pepersack. The former sheriff said there was no wrongdoing and that the brouhaha was a political attempt to get him out of office. He said he reined in spending during his final two years. And, as sheriff, he said, he needed to make sure his tenants had clean records.

Pepersack said, if elected, his first priority would be straightening out the budget and cutting government spending. "The state is not going to be straightened out politically until we have a two-party system," he said.

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