Candidates focus on growth

7 hopefuls vie to protect rural landscape of northern county

District D

August 20, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

With 211 square miles to cover, few of the seven District D candidates have the stamina for a door-to-door campaign. They are instead attending forums, community council meetings, church dinners and firehouse fundraisers.

They are waving to motorists at busy intersections - the friendliest crossing is at Routes 165 and 23 in Jarrettsville, one waver said - and planting political signs throughout Harford's most rural area. Signs have crossed district lines and a few have been spotted in Lancaster County, Pa. One candidate is getting a lot of campaign mileage from slogans painted on his shrink-wrapped car.

District D - which comprises all of northern Harford County - has drawn five Republicans and two Democrats, the most candidates of any of the six council races.

"In a race this crowded, you won't need as many votes, but every one of them will count," said Republican Doug Howard, a 57-year-old Pylesville resident, Vietnam veteran and owner of a steel fabricating business in Baltimore.

The field of candidates also includes a county planner, a retired sheriff's deputy, a volunteer fire company chief and several farmers.

"It's a crowded field because there is no incumbent and maybe because people are dissatisfied," said Republican candidate Amy Hopkins Daney, 42, a former teacher and the owner of a Darlington farm. "There are too many people in government who represent themselves and not the people who put them there."

Lance C. Miller, who served the district for two terms, declined to run this year. He has lent his support to fellow Republican Jason C. Gallion, who lost to Miller in the 1998 primary.

"Timing is everything, and the last eight years have given me great life experiences," said Gallion, 29, a livestock farmer who is chief of the Level Volunteer Fire Company, former director of the Harford County Farm Bureau and director of Steppingstone Museum.

"The candidates are all talking about the same issues," Gallion said. "I am telling people to look at service. I have showed that I can serve this community."

Chad R. Shrodes, 32, a county planner waging his first political campaign, said the number of opponents has not deterred him.

"I have wanted to do this since I can remember," said Shrodes, a Republican who lives in Norrisville, next door to the farm where his grandmother was born and raised. "I really care about this county and the quality of life we have, but it's jeopardized with so much pressure from development."

Keeping the district rural and managing growth are the campaign mantras of all seven candidates.

"I am not saying `no development,' but we need to keep it rural as long as possible," Howard said. "The county has an excellent land-use plan. I would like to see them follow it."

Democrat Stephen P. Smith, 46, a federal employee who has worked "around the world" and has lived in Darlington for seven years, said he supports "land over development regardless of where I live."

Republican Charlie W. Burns, 57, who moved to Jarrettsville from Baltimore five years ago and recently retired from the Baltimore County Sheriff's Office, said developers are too eager to replace rural landscapes with homes.

"I don't see anybody here doing anything about growth," Burns said. "I have seen the impact of growth, especially if an area is not prepared. Harford County has to come up with better policies than we have now. It seems like everything is on autopilot."

Farm preservation and a viable agriculture industry will help District D maintain its rural character, said Shrodes, who administers the county's forest conservation program.

"We need strong right-to-farm legislation and protections for large tracts of land," he said. "It is a big balancing act. We need to grow and we need to preserve farmland. There is a way to do this and maintain property rights. As a planner, I have a real grasp on how to shape the county."

Daney said council members must work together for the welfare of the entire county.

"We are running in one district, but we will represent the whole county," she said. "I like campaigning and I like people coming up to me and telling me their concerns. People are concerned about growth, educating our children in the best way we can, and fighting gangs and drugs."

Although the electorate is solidly Republican, Smith and fellow Democrat Terence Cox said winning the seat is possible.

Cox, 44, has made the reconstruction of North Harford High School, alma mater of several candidates, his focus. The project has dragged on so long that it has had an adverse impact on students' health and well-being, he said.

"I want to make sure this project is done right," he said.

The council must take a countywide view of education, said Gallion.

"We have to work for better schools across the county. I know people are worried about the budget, but teachers don't want to be in portables," he said.

Smith, the other Democrat, said he would push for more public transportation in the district.

"We have an antiquated system at best, with no buses here for our senior citizens," Smith said. "Yet all the taxpayers are paying for buses in Bel Air."

Harford Republicans raise more money, but the successful candidate will have to appeal to both parties, said Cox, a comptroller for a Riverside manufacturer.

"To win, you have to be middle-of-the-road," Cox said.

Smith spoke with more bravado.

"I'm in it and I plan to win it," said Smith, who claims his shrink-wrapped Chrysler is the equivalent of 300 road signs. "I want the job. I can do the job. I want the people of this district to hire me."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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