As deadlines close, hopefuls size up competition


election notebook


Appearing before the New Harford Democratic Club at the Aberdeen Holiday Inn, red-haired Stephen Cannon jokingly told a gray-haired audience that as a single 27-year-old, he has a lot of time on his hands to be a Bel Air town commissioner.

Cannon, a mental health specialist who says he has never voted, opted to make his first run at political office after hearing that the election could get canceled to save money if there were no challengers.

"I felt as a citizen, if no one is running, maybe it's time to run," said Cannon, who said he is usually one of three people in attendance at town meetings.

Friday was the last day to file for municipal elections in Bel Air and Aberdeen. Both elections will be Nov. 8.

Cannon is one of three candidates who will compete in Bel Air's Board of Town Commissioners election, a virtual nonrace compared to the election that's ramping up on the other side of Churchville Road, where an unprecedented throng of candidates are jockeying to lead Aberdeen as it readies for an influx of new jobs. New figures suggest 25,000 military and private-sector jobs could come to the area.

Things weren't always this exciting in Aberdeen politics, said former Mayor Charles R. Boutin, who recently took an appointment in the Public Service Commission from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"People have run, but have not been able to seize on issues that were of importance to the city," Boutin said. "With the amount of time that has gone by, we now see that there are significant issues with respect to operation of city government."

S. Fred Simmons, 53, got things going early in the four-candidate mayoral race with an aggressive "name recognition campaign" that helped him skirt rules prohibiting campaign signs before Oct. 7. Simmons was set to lead Sheriff Thomas R. Golding's re-election bid next year, but he has enlisted help from aides of his close friend, Sen. Nancy Jacobs, as he gears for his own run at political office. The businessman has the ear of many county and state difference-makers.

His signs -- inspired by the "Who is John Galt?" marketing effort for Ayn Rand's 1952 novel Atlas Shrugged -- even spurred imitators, such as the "Who is Kenny Stearns?" sign on a front lawn near Simmons' State Farm Insurance agency. Stearns, who isn't running for election, said his poker buddies put the sign in his yard as a joke.

The campaign has already begun heating up between Simmons and Mayor Douglas Wilson, with Simmons harshly questioning Wilson's leadership and priorities, and Wilson suggesting Simmons is turning on him after a previously cordial relationship.

Then there's Myra Fender, 69, a nondivisive previous City Council president who lost her council seat by five votes in 2003. She is also married to a local minister. But observers say that despite what she offers in terms of civility and altruism, she may lack the regional and political clout needed as Aberdeen prepares for a potentially large demographic swing.

Also running for mayor is Janice Grant, 72, who led the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for seven years. Grant declared her candidacy for mayor with just 30 minutes left until the deadline. Grant did not return phone messages left at her home.

Fender and Grant are likely to find a niche among town voters, observers said, and could help Wilson's cause by splitting the opposition vote between them and Simmons.

All four incumbent council members -- Ronald Kupferman, Jerome K. Hansen, Georgina "Gina" Bantum and Michael Hiob -- are looking to keep their spots, with Ruth Elliott, the city's first female mayor, Dave Yensan and last-minute filer Bernard DeWitt offering a challenge.

Meanwhile, Cannon just wants to get people interested in Bel Air politics. That's going to be one of his major themes should he win, he says, taking the spot of either David E. Carey or Robert M. Preston, both incumbents seeking re-election.

"I find politics fascinating, and I think Bel Air is going in the right direction," he said.

"However, I'd like to be a breath of fresh air."

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