Rakes refuses to comment on his future

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

March 12, 2006|By LARRY CARSON

County Councilman David A. Rakes, the east Columbia Democrat who angered some party faithful by joining with Republicans to form a controlling majority on the council, made an unannounced appearance last week at a Columbia Democratic Club candidates forum, but he wouldn't say he is a candidate for any elected office.

Rakes seemed intent on showing that he is not intimidated by party critics.

"He's a fine, fine young man," Rakes said, gesturing at Calvin Ball, a declared candidate for Rakes' seat. Rakes defeated Ball in the primary election in 2002.

"I beat him up good four years ago, and if I run again, I'll beat him up again," Rakes said as Ball sat, grim-faced.

Later, when candidates facing contested primaries were asked by a club member if they would support Democratic nominees even if they lost the primary, Ball vowed that he would, but Rakes took a roundabout route before answering.

"I'm a leader," Rakes said. "A leader does what has to be done when it needs doing."

After discussing other things, he seemed to return to the query by saying, "To answer your question, yes, indeed."

Harry M. Dunbar, a Democrat running for county executive, refused to answer the question, although he said that as someone who opposes urbanization in downtown Columbia and development in general, "I'm deeply disappointed" in the two other candidates for executive.

One of those -- west Columbia Democratic Councilman Ken Ulman -- sat next to Dunbar at the Jeffers Hill Community Center event.

Republican Councilman Christopher J. Merdon is the other. Both are in their 30s and too young for the job, said Dunbar, a 61-year old federal retiree and a real estate agent.

Rakes said later that he has not decided his political future.

Ulman said that if he is elected, the first bill he would submit to the council is a total smoking ban in county bars and restaurants with less than a two-year enforcement delay. Ulman co-sponsored a smoking ban proposed by County Executive James N. Robey that included a two-year delay for places that now allow smoking, but a County Council majority killed it.

Deregulation votes

Who among Howard's current elected officials voted for electricity deregulation in 1999?

Not Democratic Dels. Elizabeth Bobo or Frank F. Turner, who opposed the bill. Del. Shane E. Pendergrass was absent.

Voting for the bill on final reader was Del. James E. Malone Jr. and Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, also Democrats.

All five of Howard's elected Republicans at the time supported the bill.

Tax policy debate

Robey's veto of a Republican-sponsored County Council tax-cut bill has revived the political debate on tax policy this election year.

For Robey, a Democrat running for state Senate, and Ulman, their united stance gives Republicans more to criticize. Ulman already is under fire.

Ulman has "supported every tax increase put before him," said Council Chairman Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who is running for county executive.

"He supported the Robey plan," Merdon said, noting Ulman's statement as he voted "no" on the tax cut that he stands "shoulder to shoulder" with Robey.

Ulman fired back, saying Merdon was willing to cut budgets for schools and libraries in 2003 during the recession rather than raise the income tax.

This year, Ulman said, "I am for real, responsible relief right now, not an election-year gimmick that provides $4 a month in two years." That's a reference to Robey's proposed 3-cent property tax rate cut.

Merdon pointed out that last fiscal year's $20.4 million surplus is likely to be followed by more of the same.

"We had a stronger financial picture this year than we did last year, and there's certainly room for a tax reduction," Merdon said. Robey's fears of future shortfalls are unrealistic, he said, because future executives and council members might raise the property tax rate to cover them.

The bill, sponsored by western county Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga, would drop the local assessment cap on homes from 5 percent to 4 percent, lowering the increase in taxable value, and saving the owner of $450,000 home about $46 a year. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with support from Democratic Councilman David A. Rakes, but four votes are needed to override an executive veto.

Robey argued that the $3.8 million in lost revenues from Feaga's bill, when added to the $9 million his cut would cost, are too much over the long term, especially in view of rising costs for energy, health insurance and retiree health benefits .

"I thought I was doing the right thing," Robey said, adding that because he is leaving office in December, the bill would not have affected him, since it could not take effect until July 2007.

Politically, "it probably hurts me," Robey said.

Covolesky campaign

Melissa Ridgely Covolesky launched her Republican campaign for House of Delegates in western Howard County's District 9A before a small group of family and friends gathered at 7 a.m. Monday at the Forest Diner in Ellicott City.

With county Police Chief Wayne Livesay, a Republican County Council candidate, sitting in the rear, Covolesky talked about her qualifications for the job.

"Our agricultural heritage is not dead, and it is important enough for someone to stand up and say it is worth protecting," she said.

She's applying for the job -- but not without stiff competition.

A former Army Military Police officer and now a George Washington University law student, Covolesky, like Livesay, is challenging incumbent Republicans in what could make the western county's GOP primary a lively political arena this year.

Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller, both Republicans, are running for re-election as a team with GOP state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman. Kittleman is backing Greg Fox for the Republican nomination for the County Council.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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