Democratic rivals at odds

Republicans take cautious stands

County Executive

Maryland Votes 2006

August 27, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

As the seven candidates for Anne Arundel County Executive near the final two weeks of their primary campaigns, the Democratic contest is becoming more bruising, while the Republican race remains fairly genteel.

On the Democratic side, former county parks director Dennis Callahan has repeatedly questioned the leadership of Sheriff George F. Johnson IV, who holds a substantial lead in fundraising.

But the five Republicans - Dels. David G. Boschert and John R. Leopold, former Del. Phillip D. Bissett, assistant schools superintendent Gregory V. Nourse and Baltimore teacher Tom Angelis - generally avoided attacks on one another during a debate Thursday evening at Anne Arundel Community College. The two Democrats debated beforehand.

"I don't discern a lot of differences between the Republican candidates," said Dan Nataf, an AACC professor who runs the Center for the Study of Local Issues. "They are not in favor of any tax change. All of them talk about partnerships with anybody and everybody. ... It comes down much more on the Republican side on nonissues: name recognition, general familiarity."

Given the five-candidate field, Nataf said, the Republicans are forced to be more cautious in their approaches and personality may count more in the primary.

The seven candidates are vying to succeed Democratic incumbent Janet S. Owens, who cannot seek a third term due to term limits. The Republican and Democratic primaries are Sept. 12.

In the Democratic contest, Callahan is trying to overcome a large deficit in both cash and endorsements against a well-organized candidate who he acknowledges has been preparing a run for county executive for four years. Johnson has raised more than $400,000 this year, more than all of the other candidates combined.

At Thursday's forum, Callahan and Johnson clashed on affordable housing and a dedicated fee for a storm-water restoration fee.

Callahan labeled as a "tax" Johnson's proposal for a storm-water restoration fee to repair creeks and tributaries damaged by erosion. Callahan also said he disagreed with the sheriff's call for mandatory set-asides for "affordable housing" in new developments.

With the median price of a house in the county having eclipsed $400,000 in the summer, Johnson called the issue of affordable housing one of the most important of the next four years.

"We need to reach out to our police, firefighters, teachers and young professionals ... ," Johnson said. "We are ready to go with it. I will hit the ground running with a workforce housing solution."

Johnson said the county shorelines are "in definite need of help." He said he supports the fee to address what he called a "public safety, public health situation."

At the close of the 50-minute Democratic debate, Callahan repeated an attack he made earlier in the week, referring to an Examiner newspaper article that reported Johnson's department had a backlog of more than 11,000 unserved warrants. The former Annapolis mayor also noted that a clerk in the sheriff's office was fired in 2004 after being indicted on charges of stealing more than $12,000.

Johnson's campaign has noted that the warrant backlog is not limited to Anne Arundel County. His campaign also said the serving of warrants is prioritized so that resident safety isn't compromised.

But Johnson took a pass at responding to Callahan on Thursday. Instead, he spoke about his dedication to the county as a lifelong Anne Arundel employee and said he would work hard to provide the county's children "with the best education."

Both Democratic candidates offered voters a peak into their personal lives. Johnson talked about his 35 years in law enforcement, how he has had children and grandchildren attend the county public schools, and how his son, David, struggled to find a home he could buy in the county.

On his leadership style, Johnson said: "I have always been inclusive, and I will always be that way. You will always have access to me."

Callahan spoke about two businesses he had helped start, the challenges of meeting a payroll, and his experience in the 1980s as mayor, and more recently, his 7 1/2 years as county director of recreation and parks. He stepped down from the county post in May.

He acknowledged his reputation for being abrasive and confrontational. Callahan said, though, at age 64, that has changed. "A leopard can't get rid of his spots, but they do fade with age," he said.

Nataf said the timing of Callahan's attack on Johnson's management of the sheriff's department was odd. "It seemed like the spots were back, and the leopard was on his hind legs," Nataf said.

For their part, the Republican candidates largely agreed on the need to keep taxes low, to more aggressively enforce critical-area laws (instead of passing new laws) and to promote managed growth.

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