Council races shape up

District B: health of incumbent Chenowith at issue

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

More than anything else, the three-way District B Republican primary might turn on three-term incumbent Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith's health.

The 67-year-old county councilwoman from Fallston has bounced back from a bout with leukemia that sidelined her for a month, but she had a scare weeks later in council chambers when she left a council meeting in an ambulance.

Privately, some have suggested that she consider dropping out of the race, but Chenowith says she is fine, and her challengers tread lightly on the issue.

"It would be irresponsible - if I knew that there was a catastrophe waiting - to run and be elected only to have it all fall apart," Chenowith said. "All of my physicians, they've given me the go-ahead. The long-term prognosis is good."

In her characteristic, hard-nosed fashion, Chenowith is not taking the challenge to her seat lightly.

"That's nothing but political spin," she said regarding criticism of her effectiveness as a council member. "You need continuity. You need experience and knowledge to make good decisions. There are folks running for office that have no idea how you sit down and analyze a budget."

The race pits Chenowith against 51-year-old Jerry Walters, a physician assistant and former police officer from Fallston; and 29-year-old Kevin Patrick Kane of Abingdon, a spokesman for Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

The winner will face Democrat Valerie H. Twanmoh, an attorney who represents residents in zoning cases, and Brian Bittner, Harford's first Green Party candidate.

"People have lost faith that government is working for them," said Kane, a former Air Force meteorologist who lists education at the top of his priorities.

On a recent weeknight, he went door to door in an Abingdon neighborhood with his girlfriend, Whitney King, and 6-year-old daughter Kasia, who was perched on his shoulders. They handed out blue candy canes and introduced themselves to Republican voters.

Few were home that night, but Kane found at least one supportive household.

"Who's your opponent?" asked Alex Kruger, 43.

"Veronica Chenowith," Kane said.

With that, Kruger pumped his fist and said, "You've got my vote."

Kruger and his wife, Jill, explained that they often see Chenowith at community functions but that they don't consider her an effective council member.

"She's following her agenda and not the agenda of the people," said Jill Kruger, 39. "I don't think she's listening to what others want to see her do."

Chenowith said she spends much of her day on the phone, taking calls from constituents and trying to solve their problems. Her re-election campaign is about unfinished business - including securing a new parks and recreation facility for Fallston and continuing to work with the three committees on helping the county deal with job growth related to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"She's a very fair, honest person," said friend Pat Hook, 71. "She looks out for people, for all of us."

Chenowith, who uses a cane and has difficulty moving, said she has enlisted volunteers to spread her message and post campaign signs around town. She is also raising money. Wednesday morning, she said, she raised almost $18,000 at a breakfast at Josef's Country Inn.

Walters said he would like the county to expand its adequate-facilities law to take into account hospital capacity and other public safety issues.

"Try to find a primary care physician in Harford that's taking new patients - it's going to be difficult," he said. "I think there's a big way - without restricting the growth that we need to have - that the county can help to bring in new physicians in this area."

Walters became a physician assistant after graduating from a small Baptist college in Kentucky but later decided to follow in his father's footsteps and work in law enforcement. For five years, he worked for the Baltimore County police in traffic enforcement and the criminal investigations unit before going back to the medical profession.

"In the course of work in the office, you talk to people about their problems," Walters said. "Not just health problems but life problems, life situations. I look at serving on the council as an extension to what I do, a way to help people, help the community."

Even if his bid for the council fails, Walters said, campaigning has helped him achieve another personal goal: He recently lost 40 pounds.

"Last weekend, I put on a suit that I hadn't worn in 10 years," he said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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