The most heavily contested county executive's race in Maryland went into prime time last night as the seven candidates seeking the top job in Anne Arundel County faced off in a two-part televised debate at Anne Arundel Community College.
With less than three weeks before the Sept. 12 primary, the two Democrats and five Republicans addressed issues of development, affordable housing, transportation -- and how the expected military job boom at Fort Meade might affect the county.
Democrats George F. Johnson IV, the three-term county sheriff, and Dennis Callahan, a former Annapolis mayor and county director of recreation and parks, debated for the first 50 minutes. Then the Republicans -- former delegate and Ehrlich administration official Phillip D. Bissett, Del. John R. Leopold, Del. David G. Boschert, Baltimore high school teacher Tom Angelis and Gregory V. Nourse, assistant superintendent of Arundel's schools -- took the stage for 75 minutes.
More than 100 people attended.
Most of the candidates wanted to talk about the impact of the national military realignment on Arundel's growth, with at least 20,000 jobs expected to arrive at Fort Meade in the next five years. Several viewed it as a turning point for the county.
"We have one chance and only one chance," Angelis said. "It's not going to stop with West County. It's going to go into Annapolis, it's going to go into North County, it's going to go south."
The views of the Republicans varied most on transportation, as Bissett and Nourse said they would support a county subsidy for mass transit, although Nourse said he would not back an open-ended commitment.
Boschert, though, supported forming a transit authority that would promote shuttle service. Leopold said he would restore money to the state transportation fund to ensure that future needs could be met.
"It all starts with money," Leopold said.
Angelis said he would encourage private business to promote telecommuting options to keep people off the roads.
In the Democratic debate, Johnson said he is the only candidate to express support of a dedicated fee to restore county waterways damaged by storm runoff.
"Our bay is very, very sick," Johnson said. "It's in definite need of help."
Callahan labeled the fee as a tax and said he would not support such an option.
"All of us want clean water," Callahan said. "If I had the ability to choose a legacy ... it would be public access to clean water." He also differed with Johnson on affordable housing initiatives, saying he disagreed with the sheriff's call to mandate "inclusionary zoning" that would require developers to set aside 10 percent to 20 percent of a project for middle-income families.
Johnson said finding affordable housing solutions is crucial to keeping police, firefighters, teachers and young professionals living in the county where they work.
Callahan renewed his attack this week on Johnson's handling of the sheriff's office, pointing to a backlog of thousands of unserved warrants that he said demonstrates a lack of leadership.
"My parents said that if you can't say anything good about somebody, don't say anything at all. I'm not going to say anything about my opponent," Johnson said to extended applause.