Three GOP victors linked by backing of reform groups

Gouge, Minnich, Jones found informal alliance

Growth, water issues were key

Conservative incumbents ousted by activist voters

September 12, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

One is mayor of Carroll's smallest town and among the few blacks ever elected in the county, another is an embattled three-term commissioner in desperate search of new colleagues. The third is a veteran local newspaper columnist seeking office for the first time.

They came to Tuesday's election from different backgrounds, but all three captured thousands of votes from Republicans looking for a change from conservative-dominated county leadership.

Perry L. Jones, Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich left two incumbent commissioners far in their wake as Carroll Republicans nominated the three moderates to represent the county's dominant party in the Nov. 5 general election.

Community activists and state officials who had sparred with conservative commissioners Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell over growth issues deemed the election a turning point in Carroll political history. Frazier fell about 2,000 votes short of victory in the primary and Dell finished about 4,000 votes behind.

"I'm having to pinch myself to believe it turned out this way," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for the Freedom Area Citizens' Council, an Eldersburg community group that had criticized Dell and Frazier's record on growth issues.

"This is certainly a repudiation of the last four years. Sixth and seventh place is certainly not a very respectable showing for incumbents in their own party."

State officials seemed equally surprised and happy.

"Quality of life is a hard thing to define, but people notice when it's slipping away, and I think a lot of people in Carroll saw it slipping away and thought it was time for a change," said Roy W. Kienitz, the state secretary of planning.

With three moderate Republicans running against three Democrats and an independent, Dangel and others said they feel confident the Nov. 5 general election will produce a board interested in re-examining county growth policies.

"I can guarantee this new board - whoever is elected - will be easier for the mayors to work with," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, one of many town leaders who had disagreed with Dell and Frazier. "I see more cooperation with neighboring counties and with the state. This could open the doors to all kinds of good things for Carroll County."

Minnich, 60, entered the race first, in early January. He quickly found many county residents who shared his suspicion that behind-the-scenes interests were unduly influencing county policy making.

Minnich first wrote about Carroll as a reporter in the 1960s, when the commissioners began implementing zoning laws. He said he felt that when they implemented those tighter controls on property rights, the commissioners promised an excellent quality of life in return. That promise has seemed more distant in recent years, he said throughout his campaign.

Some opponents accused him of crafting a reform platform for political expediency, but Minnich said voters knew better.

"I've written a column since 1969, and that gives people an insight into who you are and what you're about," he said. "This election showed that if you're straight with people, they'll support you. To me, that's the greatest thing about this election. People got it."

Gouge, 62, ran as an incumbent advocating reform. She said that for three years she was frustrated sitting between Dell and Frazier because they outvoted her at every turn.

She fought with them over their support for building a water treatment plant in South Carroll. She also accused them of allowing growth to overwhelm school, water and road capacities in parts of the county.

Community leaders said they found Gouge's resolve noble.

"It shows her toughness that she never said, `I've had enough,'" Dangel said.

Gouge won easily Tuesday, as she had in 1998. "I'm glad I was seen as the voice of reason," she said.

Jones, 50, one of the few minorities elected in the history of a county that's less than 4 percent black, ran as a Democrat for commissioner in 1998. He changed party affiliation this year.

Jones bought only a few low-key advertisements and offered simple solutions to the county's growth problems. Union Bridge would never build anything without adequate infrastructure in place, and the county shouldn't either, he said.

His explanation for his win: "I guess just the fact that I have almost 23 years' experience serving the town of Union Bridge, and we've had a lot of good things happen there."

Though the three never formally aligned, activists began associating them in the weeks before the primary.

All three received endorsement from the county teacher's union, the Freedom Area Citizens' Council and Responsible Republicans of Carroll County LLC, an organization created by Westminster developer Gerald Ryan.

The Responsible Republicans mailed out thousands of fliers last week saying of the eventual winners, "We believe they will bring leadership, consensus building, fair-mindedness and vision to the county's highest elected office instead of the disgraceful incompetence and malfeasance of the last four years."

The association seemed to stick for voters.

"I voted for Gouge, and for Perry Jones because I liked his answers to my concerns about growth," said Jessica Wike, 22, of Hampstead. "I didn't know much about Minnich, but I figured if the other two liked him, he must be OK."

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