Steele's visit highlights Howard's `swing county' role

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

September 04, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

MARYLAND Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele isn't looking for a house to buy in Howard County, but it does seem as if he is visiting more often as political activity picks up at summer's end.

Steele, a Republican and likely candidate for the U.S. Senate, attended the county Republican Party golf tournament Tuesday at Waverly Woods, and he is due back in a few weeks for Republican County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon's $150-a-ticket fundraiser Sept. 22.

Steele is not saying when or if he will announce his candidacy for the Senate seat from which Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes is retiring next year, but one attendee said Steele told local party faithful that Howard is a wealthy county, and he will need its residents' help if he does run.

Howard County Councilman Charles C. Feaga said Steele told the GOP faithful that "being rich, we have more responsibility to make things happen. If he runs for Senate, he'll need help."

Howard is a small county, but "we've known for a long time it's a swing county," said Democratic Del. Elizabeth Bobo, remarking on Steele's visits.

Democrats running for the post include U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who represents part of eastern Howard; Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and A. Robert Kaufman. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist, also has announced.

Steele's visits are a sign that political activity will pick up this month and into the fall.

Merdon is scheduled to formally announce his candidacy for Howard County executive Sept. 20 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Ellicott City, where a new county elementary school is to be built. The VFW provided land, as did the YMCA nearby, for the school site.

"To me it's just a formality," Merdon said, noting that he has been actively campaigning, including sign-waving at motorists, for weeks. Still, "we want to do an official kickoff."

His Democratic counterpart, County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, said he is resisting the idea of announcing anything -- yet.

"I really do believe what I say -- governing before politics," Guzzone said, adding that his political plans "will become apparent in the next several weeks to months."

When he does move, he said, "I want to be the chief advocate for the success we've had over the last eight years because it's a great story."

Guzzone may have Howard's shining image and first-rate school system to brag about. But he also carries political baggage from bruising disputes over development of the huge Maple Lawn, Maryland development in Fulton, the Robey administration's income tax increase in 2003 and the council's passage of a rezoning bill that sparked a citizens' petition drive to put the land-use decisions on the 2006 ballot.

Maybe he would prefer to wait a bit for that battle to begin.

Autumn events

Both major parties and several ethnic organizations that often attract politicians have other events scheduled as the weather gets crisper.

The Howard County Muslim Council is collecting donations of nonperishable food and cash for the county's food bank and now to help relieve the misery of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

President Anwer Hasan said a Sept. 18 food collection event scheduled for Cedar Lane Park, off Route 108, has been expanded to include collection booths in area stores Sept. 9 though 11, and door-to-door collections.

Elected officials from County Executive James N. Robey to members of Congress and the County Council are expected Sept. 18, at 1:30 p.m., he said.

The Howard County Korean American Association is holding a golf tournament Sept. 18 at the Compass Pointe Golf Course in Pasadena.

Song Park, 35, one of the organizers along with association President Sue Song, said Korean-Americans are often working too hard to get involved in politics and government.

"My goal is to get more of the `1.5 generation' of Koreans involved" and registered to vote, he said. By that he means people like himself, who came to the United States as young children with immigrant parents, but who grew up here.

A lot of those young adults now make decisions for their older parents, he said, and the golf tournament will help draw the younger generation into the political mainstream.

The Democrats are holding their annual Labor Day picnic from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at Cedar Lane Park.

County Democratic Chairwoman Wendy Fiedler said the hope is to break even financially and to rally core party members for the coming contests. Guzzone will be among the speakers, she said, but no one is pushing him to announce his intentions before he is ready.

"Whenever we do have somebody emerge, the base will be right there with him," she said, adding that everyone else with political ambitions is waiting for Guzzone.

Bobo's annual picnic, also at Cedar Lane park, will be held Sept. 25. It is free, she said, though donations are accepted.

This year, she has invited House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat Bobo described as "embattled" and a target for Republicans.

"He's under attack, and I think he's done a good job," she said.

On Oct. 1, County Councilman Ken Ulman, a West Columbia Democrat, plans a $25-a-ticket event at his parents' house in Dorsey Hall that is scheduled to feature an appearance by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, an unannounced candidate for governor.

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