Democrats in a fighting mood at Labor Day picnic

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

September 11, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

HOWARD COUNTY Executive James N. Robey and a clutch of other Maryland Democrats were in a fighting political mood as they rallied the party faithful at the county party's Labor Day picnic at Cedar Lane park.

Remarking on reports that Republicans have targeted some local Democrats for defeat next year, Robey laid out a call to arms intended to rally Democrats for battle.

"When are we going to get off our asses and start targeting some of them? You can't just play defense. We have to play offense," he told the crowd.

Robey did not reveal his plans for next year, but he is rumored to be preparing a challenge to Republican State Sen. Sandra B. Schrader -- a move that, if successful, likely would give county Democrats two of the three state Senate seats.

"I haven't heard anything about that," Schrader said later about Robey's intentions.

No Democrats announced their political plans for next year at the picnic, though Robey hinted at a possible county executive race for County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, who also spoke.

"As Guy will soon find out, this is the greatest job in the world. You can make a difference," Robey said.

Guzzone is widely expected to run for executive, joining County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, who is campaigning for the office.

Like other Democrats, Robey criticized the Bush administration response to Hurricane Katrina, referring to Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, who, before taking the job two years ago, was director of the International Arabian Horse Association.

"When you appoint people who have no background in this kind of activity, you get what you got," Robey said about the delayed federal response to flooding in New Orleans.

The Democrats, led by retiring U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who wants to succeed him, were in a combative mood.

"We're in a real fight. The [Bush] administration has made an absolute mess of things overseas and at home," Sarbanes said, noting the chaos in Iraq and on the Gulf Coast. The GOP will leave a legacy of disaster, deficit and neglect of important programs needed to care for people, he said.

"I don't blame Katrina on the Republican Party, but I do blame the Republicans for the response," Cardin said.

Both men noted that they voted against the congressional resolution paving the way for the invasion of Iraq, but Cardin said that regardless of that issue, "we all acknowledge that this administration has mishandled our role in Iraq from Day 1. Where are the Democrats? The Democrats are here, and we're speaking out about this administration."

Told of the comments later, county Republican Party Chairman Howard M. Rensin vigorously disagreed.

"It is typical for the Democrats to try to use every event to blame the president," he said, arguing that the primary responsibility for New Orleans and Louisiana belongs to state and local officials.

Rows of school buses that could have been used to evacuate the poor were left to the flood, he said, and the state's governor failed to declare a state of emergency soon enough, he contended.

"Cardin and Sarbanes are acting like uninformed buffoons," Rensin said. "They either do not know, or have intentionally chosen to ignore, the facts in favor of politics. Mr. Cardin will be reminded of that when he runs for the Senate."

Sarbanes also talked about state politics.

"For Maryland to allow a Republican to take over the governor's mansion is a disgrace and a shame," he said, adding that the Democrats need to restore a "progressive program" in Maryland.

Rensin offered a rebuttal to that, too, saying that far from being ashamed, Maryland residents should take pride in more than a dozen ways in which the state has become involved in relief efforts to help people on the Gulf Coast.

Robey said Howard County has offered to take in up to 500 people left homeless by the storm and flooding, and sent a team of 20 firefighters to Gretna, La., for two weeks.

That is more than Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has agreed to do, said an angry Del. Frank Turner, a Democrat. Turner said he had called Ehrlich's office asking that the state offer to house people from the Gulf states but was rebuffed.

Updating that Web page

Howard County State's Attorney Tim McCrone's picture is prominently displayed on his office's Web page, but much of the ancillary information on line is out of date.

"We used to have a lady who worked here part time on a grant who monitored and modified the Web page. We lost the position," he said.

The page will be updated as soon as he gets a staff member trained in the ways of electronic communications.

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