Council races shape up

District A: Guthrie boasts of successes in his first term

August 13, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

By most measures, Dion F. Guthrie has had a productive first term on the Harford County Council.

A meticulous researcher known as "Brother Dion" by his electrical workers union brethren, the 68-year-old Democrat has secured funding for numerous community projects in District A, pressured officials on crime and worked to tighten a law that slows development around crowded schools.

For the three Republicans vying to unseat him in the Sept. 12 primary, those results have often come too late. They point to development in Joppa and crime in Edgewood as proof of the need for change.

"Developers that didn't target Joppa before are now targeting it because there's low enrollment in the schools," said John C. Kantorski Jr., a 31-year-old technical writer from Joppa who blames the adequate-facilities law for redirecting growth there. "Nearly 1,000 housing units are coming in, and that's going to give us some real challenges."

In addition to Kantorski, Edgewood resident Christopher J. Biggs, a 24-year-old legislative director in the state's economic development office, and Paula R. Mullis, 59, a co-owner of a drug testing company, are vying for the GOP nomination in the Sept. 12 primary.

Guthrie, the only Democrat on Harford's County Council, has two challengers in the primary, William J. Coates and Michael Neuman. Neither responded to repeated attempts to interview them.

Biggs, a former aide to state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, said he wants to enact truancy laws to protect children from gangs and to offer tax incentives and zoning controls that could help attract high-quality businesses.

Mullis, a neighbor of Guthrie's and president of the county's Republican women's club, said her independent, strong-willed attitude can get results.

Both accused Guthrie of springing to action in an election year.

"What exactly has changed in four years?" Mullis said in a recent interview. "All of this stuff with Edgewood and crime, this is not from today. This has been going on for four years. All of a sudden, we're right before the election, and something's happening."

Guthrie says he has been one of the most active members of the council. Six months after taking office, he instituted a monthly meeting for constituents to air grievances, and he sends community news by e-mail.

One of his challengers in the 2002 primary -- Samuel T. Gibson III -- is driving a truck with an illuminated "Elect Guthrie" sign this year.

"I'm very happy and very pleased with my record," said Guthrie, sitting behind a mountain of paperwork and news clippings on his desk.

"I take heat from across the street," he said, referring to the county administration, "but so be it. I'm elected by my district, and that's who I represent."

From 1990 to 2002, District A was represented by Republican Susan Heselton. Guthrie took back the seat for Democrats in 2002 -- the first year of in-district elections -- by 60 votes despite a nearly 2-to-1 registration advantage.

He rebuffed solicitations this year that he challenge Jacobs, whose Senate district has a similarly lopsided makeup.

Residents are worried about crime and the quality of schools in Edgewood and Joppatowne, Mullis said. The grandmother, who was born in Bronx, N.Y., said she would be an independent and outspoken voice on the council.

"I'm not going to sit there and vote just because the council says you ought to do this because you're a Republican -- wrong," Mullis said. "I'll raise my voice enough until somebody listens to me. If that doesn't work, I'll get enough community support. If you get loud enough, long enough, somebody will listen to you."

Biggs is promoting several ideas that he would push as a council member. He said his work with the Department of Business and Economic Development as legislative director and helping craft legislation in Annapolis as a member of Jacobs' staff would help him get off to a quick start with the council.

"I want to start getting results," Biggs said. "Our tax dollars go toward so many things, but there is no follow-through on whether those programs are getting results."

The tension started early in the campaign.

In October 2005, Biggs accused Guthrie of stealing his campaign signs, which had been posted outside a Guthrie fundraiser on Rumsey Island. Guthrie has maintained that he removed signs that were posted on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. property, which he said was illegal.

Kantorski is running a low-key campaign. He has not solicited contributions and is spreading his message through word of mouth.

He said residents who speak up about development or transportation issues often feel that their concerns aren't being heard and that he would like to craft legislation to give them a greater voice.

As an owner of two rental properties in Baltimore, he said, he would also bolster recently announced initiatives to hold landlords accountable for tenants who engage in criminal activity.

"I think it's important you have a turnover of new ideas and new people," he said. "I want to go in for one term, maybe two if I'm lucky, help influence council and let them keep going."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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