Personal relations can haunt candidates

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

June 04, 2006|By LARRY CARSON

The perils of interpersonal relations can always cost a political candidate, as Democrat Ken Ulman and Republican Christopher J. Merdon, both candidates for county executive, can attest.

A snit over a dinner seat with a few members of the Cattail Creek Country Club last month produced some angry public complaints about Merdon's manners from a few Republican voters, but Ulman has at least one public Democratic detractor, too.

Columbia activist Vivian Bailey, 88, a Democrat, has generally been a strong supporter of Democratic candidates - but she has made a cable television commercial endorsing Merdon's candidacy for executive.

Having an African-American Democrat from Columbia publicly endorse him helps Merdon, who is trying to convince Howard's majority of registered Democrats and fast-growing minority of independent voters that he is an issues-driven politician able to work with both parties, not a hard-core GOP partisan.

Bailey strongly supports County Executive James N. Robey's state Senate campaign and is backing school board member Mary Kay Sigaty's second bid for the Democratic nomination to County Council.

The 30-second Merdon spot has Bailey identifying herself as "a lifelong Democrat" who sees Merdon as a "bipartisan" politician who will support issues based on merit, not politics.

Why such an outspoken advocacy for a Republican?

"I vote the person and not the party," she said.

"I see Ken Ulman from personal experience as being arrogant and immature," Bailey added, saying that "he's been rude to me on occasion."

Ulman is 32, and Merdon is 35 - and both have been declared too young by Harry M. Dunbar, 61, another Democrat seeking the county's highest office.

Bailey's disdain for Ulman goes back to 2002, when he defeated Sigaty in a hotly contested Democratic primary for County Council by 36 votes. Robey backed Ulman in the primary, but Bailey holds no grudge against him. She helped hoist a huge Robey political banner at the launch of his public announcement last fall.

Ulman, however, "got in my face when he ran against Mary Kay," Bailey said. She feels that Merdon, with two terms of council experience to Ulman's one term - and more business experience - is a better choice.

"I think it's extremely important that we get the right person [for county executive]," said Bailey, who vowed to do whatever she can to help Merdon.

Ulman said he's unclear about Bailey's accusations of rudeness and brushed off anything that might have happened four years ago.

"You can't please everyone," he said. "I have no idea what she's referring to or talking about. It's not the way I handle myself."

Ulman also said that Bailey has never supported him.

"There are certain people who support your opponent," he said. "That's just the way it is. I have the utmost respect for her."

Two local bills

Among the dozens of General Assembly-passed bills not signed or vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were two local measures approved by the Howard County delegation. They became law anyway, since no action was taken by May 31.

One raises the marriage license fee in Howard to $50, an increase of $15, and devotes the roughly $25,000 in added revenue to domestic violence programs in the county. The other measure extends workers' compensation benefits to sheriff's deputies.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the lack of signature or veto on so many bills this year puzzled him.

"This administration is different than the ones in the past," Busch said. "In 20 years, I've never seen this many."

The marriage license bill was approved for two years running by Howard County's legislators, but it died last year after getting caught up in the push by conservative Republicans to amend the Maryland Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center in Columbia, said she had hoped her staff would get a chance to go to Annapolis and watch the bill-signing ceremony, but it was not to be.

"To me, [signing the bill] was a no-brainer," Finkelstein said.

She said she was "a little disappointed," with Ehrlich's decision, but pleased with the support that the measure received from the local delegation and the Robey administration, which provided the extra funding last year even though the fee did not increase.

Ehrlich did sign a somewhat controversial bill to ban leghold animal traps in Howard. The measure was sponsored by Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat.

Quinter's bill was opposed by the state Department of Natural Resources and heavily criticized by western county Republicans, including Cody Kittleman, the brother of state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.

Quinter also was left guessing about why his bill received a gubernatorial signature while the others did not.

"I'd heard he was probably going to let it become law without his signature," Quinter said. "So I was a bit surprised when it showed up on the signing list."

Howard joins Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties as jurisdictions that have leghold-trap bans in place.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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