Candidates trade jabs on campaign issues

Merdon says ambitions don't go beyond executive


Howard County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon insists that if he wins the county executive's job, it will be the last elected office he intends to seek.

Asked at a candidates forum if he has political ambitions beyond the executive's job, Merdon, a 35-year-old two-term councilman, said: "This is the last time I'll run for office."

He modified that to say he might run for a second term if he wins in November against the Democratic nominee -- at this point, either Councilman Ken Ulman or Harry M. Dunbar.

Political candidates who disavow politics are as common as advocates of term limits who, like Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, are free to change their minds once elected. But Merdon is insistent. With two young children and a busy wife, Merdon said he wants to have more time to spend with his family.

"I think everybody has a duty to serve the public, but you should not make a career out of it," he said. "I truly mean it."

All three executive hopefuls attended the forum at the Glenwood library on Wednesday night, along with three candidates for the western County Council District 5, and seven candidates for county school board.

Dunbar, 61, an anti-growth Democrat, said he has no other political plans; Ulman, 31, did not answer directly.

If elected, "I'll do the best job I can," Ulman said.

"I just remember when I ran for County Council [in 2002] and people asked me the same question. If I'm lucky enough to be elected, I'm going to work as hard as I can. If I do a good job and people want me to do something else, I'd consider that," Ulman said later. "I wouldn't close any doors."

He was skeptical of Merdon's statement.

"People always think they're sincere until they change their mind at some point," Ulman said.

Dunbar blamed the two county councilmen for everything from school crowding to traffic congestion. He also called for a federal purchase of the 892-acre Doughoregan Manor, the nearly 300-year- old Carroll family estate, despite the family's desire to keep the property private.

Merdon stressed his nearly eight years in county office and attacked Ulman for what he called lack of management experience.

"Managing one person in your career does not give you experience" Merdon said, referring to Ulman's solo law practice.

But Ulman was ready.

"Ken Lay had a lot of management experience and look what he did for Enron," he said.

Dunbar said he has spent more than 30 years in human resources and personnel management for the federal government, claiming his experience trumps Merdon's and Ulman's.

The council candidates are Republicans Greg Fox, 38, of Fulton and county Police Chief Wayne Livesay, 54, of Sykesville and Democrat Donald Dunn, 77, of West Friendship.

Asked how they would manage growth in the rural west, Fox and Livesay said predictability is the key, but Dunn had a more complex answer.

"Yes, it is growth, but the thing that really bothers us is change. What we're really managing is not growth, but change," he said.

In a question that appeared aimed at Livesay, the three were asked if they would support all the candidates in their respective political parties if they win their September primaries.

Livesay was a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat in 2002 to support former Police Chief James N. Robey -- his former boss -- in Robey's bid to be re-elected county executive. Livesay returned to the GOP to run for council. Robey is running for state Senate against Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader.

Fox said he will support every Republican, while Dunn said he does not know who all the candidates will be.

"I believe in voting for the best candidate," Livesay said. "Party affiliation doesn't determine everything."

Speaking about the announced 72 percent Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rate increase, Dunn said it is an example of a case where government must step in.

"They'll gouge us until the gouging hurts. I'm madder than hell about this." If current office holders don't do something, "get them out of there," he growled.

Fox, a 17-year employee of BGE's parent company, Constellation Energy, blamed the problem on artificial rate caps, and he said Democrats created them.

Livesay said "placing blame is not the answer," adding, it is "sad and wrong that nobody saw this coming."

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