Bond-rating trip guest list generates displeasure

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

December 18, 2005|By LARRY CARSON

Howard County officials who last week trekked to New York to help preserve Howard's coveted AAA bond rating went as a bipartisan team, and it is not the first time - though Councilman Ken Ulman's inclusion in the group prompted some criticism at first.

The annual trip was Democratic County Executive James N. Robey's last, but it was Republican County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon's first. Merdon is running for county executive next year, and before the trip was not pleased that Robey also invited Ulman, the west Columbia Democrat also running to succeed Robey. Harry M. Dunbar, another Democrat running for county executive, said that if Ulman went, he should have, too.

But after returning home Friday, Merdon said the trip itself changed his mind. "It's something all council members should have the opportunity to do at least once. You get a better understanding of what the bond rating agencies are looking for," he said, and it's not political.

Robey said he felt the invitations could help the county in the long run.

"It makes sense. Whoever the next county executive is will have some experience, and it will show a relationship between the current administration and whoever is coming in," Robey said.

Only two dozen counties nationally have the AAA rating, which allows governments to borrow money at lower interest rates, saving millions of dollars in interest.

"I thought back to when I went the first time," Robey said, recalling that in February 1999, just after his first election, he invited recently retired two-term Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker on the New York pilgrimage to the three bond rating houses.

Howard's delegation usually has included the council chairman, who until this year was Democrat Guy Guzzone. Robey said Merdon and Ulman "appear to be front-runners" for the top job, though Dunbar disagreed.

"I'm a candidate for county executive. I should be there, too. I'm outraged," Dunbar said.

Ulman said, "I'm pleased to be going," as he prepared to set out Tuesday.

Not waiting

With four prominent Democrats seeking their party's nomination in September's primary election for three District 13 delegate seats, Del. Neil F. Quinter isn't waiting for spring to get rolling.

The same night that Republican Loretta Gaffney, an aide to GOP Del. Gail H. Bates, announced her candidacy for a District 13 delegate seat at the Elkridge firehouse, Quinter had a fundraiser at a supporter's home in River Hill.

He announced the event with a news release claiming "the entire Democratic leadership of the Maryland House of Delegates is supporting his re-election" by sponsoring the affair. As if to emphasize his point, Quinter was introduced by House Majority Whip and Prince George's County Del. Anthony G. Brown, who last week joined Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign as the ticket's candidate for lieutenant governor.

"This is supporting a colleague on an issue important to him," Brown said, explaining his role in what could be a divisive battle among Howard Democrats. Brown and Quinter serve together on the House Judiciary Committee.

Howard County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, also is running for delegate, on a ticket with incumbent Dels. Shane Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner, veterans who each collected more votes in 2002 than Quinter.

Guzzone gave up plans to run for county executive and announced for delegate when Quinter was still a candidate for Congress. When Quinter changed plans and said he would run for re-election, it put the Democrats into a game of political musical chairs.

In addition to the $10,000 that Quinter said his event raised, he also said he is trying to bring the $34,824 he reported having in his October federal campaign kitty to his campaign for delegate. Under state law, he can transfer $4,000 directly from his federal to his state campaign treasury, and he said he is refunding the rest to contributors who agree to re-donate it to his state effort.

The significance of Quinter's support from House leadership is open to interpretation.

Guzzone said all Quinter did was get the House leadership to support his fundraiser, labeling the endorsement claims "not significant." Turner agreed.

"It's a general practice for all of leadership to allow any incumbent to use their name on a fundraiser," Turner said.

House Speaker Del. Michael E. Busch said, "We support the 98 Democrats in the General Assembly. As a practice, I will agree to be on a fundraising ticket."

Several House committee leaders confirmed that. But Health and Government Operations Committee Chairman Del. Peter A. Hammen went further, saying he endorses Quinter for re-election.

"He's worked hard. He's a very thoughtful delegate," Hammen said. Judiciary Committee Chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., also said he also supports Quinter's re-election.

The Republicans

As for the Republicans, Gaffney joins Mary Beth Tung and the Rev. Rick Bowers in seeking a seat in the Democrat-dominated, L-shaped southeastern county district.

Gaffney, a 15-year county resident who lives at the western edge of District 13 in Glenelg, has worked for Bates for two years, and she said that experience encouraged her to run.

"It was a little seed growing inside of me for some time," Gaffney said. "My message is, we can do better together," adding that she is most interested in issues involving senior citizens and veterans.

Her event featured a professional ballroom dance performance by a local instructor and was more of a campaign launch than a fundraiser, she said. Tickets were $50 a person.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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