2 candidates and activist find tough sledding

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

July 16, 2006|By LARRY CARSON

Riling up the electorate and winning office in a year when many people seem angry over development issues may seem simple, but county executive candidates Harry M. Dunbar, C. Stephen Wallis and citizen activist Mona Brinegar are learning it is not.

Brinegar attracted fewer than five voters unaffiliated with political campaigns to a citizens meeting she organized at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center on Monday night.

The Ellicott City independent voter is trying to organize like-minded people. She had Wallis, an independent candidate, and Angela Beltram, leader of the citizens group trying to defeat the contested "Comp Lite" zoning bill, as speakers. Brinegar plans a second meeting July 24 at the Miller branch library on Frederick Road.

Wallis talked in part about how hard he has found it to get the required number of voter signatures to become a certified candidate. He has more than 2,000, he said, but wants 2,500 to be sure he has enough.

"It has proved very daunting," said Wallis, principal of Harper's Choice Middle School. "It's disappointing we can't find more people with us tonight. ... It's tough to move people and get things done. People have their own lives."

In fact, Wallis took so much time talking to the tiny group at Brinegar's event that he missed a well-attended forum for county executive candidates held nearby, at the Vantage House retirement community.

There, Democrats Ken Ulman and Dunbar spoke to more than 50 seniors. A nurse read a letter from Wallis, and Beverly Wilhide, a former top staff member for former county executive Charles I. Ecker, spoke for Republican county executive candidate Christopher J. Merdon, who Wilhide said was out of town on a business trip.

Dunbar used the occasion to flail away at Ulman, considered the front-runner in their party primary. In a prepared speech, Dunbar criticized the proposed 22-story high-rise building soon to rise in Town Center, and he referred to the County Council and County Executive James N. Robey as "our pro-uncontrolled growth county executive and our pro-uncontrolled growth County Council/Zoning Board."

Dunbar referred to "whispered backroom requests of developers," and criticized a council-approved property tax deferral plan for seniors as "appalling" and "a disastrous deferred tax program," because it creates a debt that must be paid whenever the person's house is sold. He would favor a tax credit instead of deferring tax increases, Dunbar said.

Ulman was stone-faced, rising to tell the group, "It's very hard to sit here and listen to him tell one untruth after another. It's easy to stand up there and say whatever you want." Dunbar responded by saying, "I don't make up any facts. I tell it like it is."

Despite his efforts, Dunbar's verbal assaults on what he termed "my young, inexperienced opponents" appeared to attract few converts. Vantage House is in the heart of Ulman's district, and his family has ties to several retired residents.

"My daughter was one of his teachers," said Ed Propper, 84, who moved to Columbia from California to be near his daughter and who wore an Ulman campaign T-shirt.

Ruth Blinder, 80, said she "liked Ulman. He's a young person and has lots of good ideas. He means what he says. The other candidate seems sort of negative."

Walking to his car outside, Dunbar ran into Geoffrey Greene, a friend whose mother lives in Vantage House. Greene disagreed with Dunbar's slow-growth mantra, arguing that slowing growth only makes homes more expensive.

"It's supply and demand. You can't fight economics," he said.

Drafted by GOP

A Republican candidate for sheriff has surfaced: Tim Galt, 37, of Marriottsville, a Baltimore police officer and homicide detective for the past decade, was drafted to run by the county's Republican state central committee.

Galt did not file by the July 3 deadline, but because no Republican filed for sheriff, the central committee may enter a candidate. Galt said he plans to leave his police job Aug. 6 for a federal investigator's job, but said he would have time to campaign.

He will face the winner of a Democratic primary between two-term incumbent Chuck Cave and police union President James Fitzgerald.

Democrats worried

County Democrats are worried that turmoil among county Board of Elections members could lead to selection of an attorney for the board who is not strictly nonpartisan.

Tony McGuffin, chairman of the Howard County Democratic State Central Committee wrote a letter to the elections board administrator, Betty Nordaas, saying, "The behavior of the Republican-controlled board exposes the possibility of a partisan stacking of the deck with a partisan lawyer for post-election manipulations."

Board Chairman Guy L. Harriman refused to discuss the specific situation, but he said, "We certainly want to get [an attorney] who's impartial."

The board selected an attorney in April, but rescinded the decision and began the process again when board member Brenda Morstein complained that the job wasn't advertised widely enough.

Meanwhile Morstein's husband, attorney William Morstein, has been ordered by a judge to stay out of private work areas of the board's offices after two female employees complained he angrily cursed and frightened them on several visits.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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