GOP Balto. Co. councilmen hesitant about backing Ports in 5th District

Republican is opposing a three-term Democrat

September 18, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Although Republican voters supported state Del. James F. Ports Jr. over incumbent Baltimore County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner in last week's primary, council Republicans are remaining neutral or silent on Ports' race against Democratic incumbent Vincent J. Gardina in the reconfigured 5th District.

It's customary for the losing candidate in the primary to support the winner. But Skinner said he likely will not endorse Ports or Gardina in the 5th District, which now includes part of Towson, Perry Hall and Carney.

"I think it's best for me to remain neutral," Skinner said, adding that he will focus his energy on his remaining months in office and helping with Republican Douglas B. Riley's county executive campaign.

Most members of the council - where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-2 - are expected to support Gardina, if for no other reason than to deny Ports.

Council Republican T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the north county, said he would not comment on whether he would endorse Ports, nor would he speculate on the race.

"They know I'm outspoken and independent," said Ports, who scored political points with voters by debating County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Senate Bill 509, a contentious property condemnation bill that Ports opposed and voters rejected in a referendum. "They don't want an independent voice on the council. But what they say in public and what they say in private aren't always the same. That's politics. I can't worry about that."

Ports, a Perry Hall resident, added that he is getting quite a bit of support from Democratic voters in the district.

Gardina said he has support from former Skinner loyalists, along with quiet endorsements from councilmen with whom he has not always agreed and from officials in the Republican Party.

Ports "has a reputation as a voice of opposition to everything," said Gardina, a three-term incumbent from Perry Hall. "It's not even so much what he opposes but the manner in which he does it. His approach ... grinds on people, even within his own party."

"Republicans don't always play well together," said Don Murphy, chairman of the county's Republican Party. "But to any Ports' detractor, I'd say, `Isn't that what you want in an elected official - someone who will stand up to the powers that be?' I sat next to him for three years on House floor. We'd debate issues. But that was good."

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Democrat who represents the Catonsville area, said, "I know what people say about Ports' reputation. I haven't experienced any of that. But I've never worked with him.

"I have worked with Vince, and I respect him. He's served on the council during very difficult economic times. ... I think his insight about what happened then and what he can learn from the past will be invaluable."

Ports said he would be able to suggest ways of taking advantage of federal and state funds that the county has not sought in the past.

"We're missing opportunities because no one knows the programs are out there," said Ports, who added that he expects the county will have to deal with fiscal problems as a result of the state budget deficit. "It's going to take cooperation between the council and county executive."

Ports' record of voting against every state budget for 12 years doesn't bode well, Gardina said.

"I think that's one of the reasons the council has concerns about Ports," he said. "You may propose to pull out a project, but it's irresponsible to vote against funding education and health care."

Ports said he has suggested ways to cut the state budget. "It's irresponsible to vote for budgets that put the state $1 billion in deficit," he said.

The sparring is a preview of what politicians predict will be a fairly expensive and competitive contest.

"I think this council votes on issues, not by party lines," said Council Chairman John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, who said he supports Gardina. "I look forward to working with Vince again. It's going to be an interesting race."

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