Incumbent faces activist in 7th

Rats, storefront use stir discussion in Democrats' council contest

August 31, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Bernice Myer starts her day of campaigning at a hot dog cart in downtown Dundalk, where she secures a promise that customers will get her fliers in their lunch bags. This is akin to political gold for the retired city homicide detective hoping to unseat a two-term incumbent.

"I'm only one vote short," Myer, who became a community activist after Tropical Storm Isabel, quips to a couple of ladies waiting outside the nearby post office. "Yours."

About a week later, incumbent County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. is going from table to table at his annual family picnic, which draws a crowd of about 1,200 to Merritt Point Park.

"Y'all having fun?" Olszewski asks, cooling off a group of ladies in lawn chairs by waving a cardboard fan that says, "I'm a fan of Johnny O."

Both Myer and Olszewski are making typical stops at the doorsteps of Dundalk Democrats known to vote in primaries and putting their campaign signs throughout the 7th District, which includes Dundalk, Sparrows Point, Rosedale and part of Essex.

But for Myer, a Millers Island Democrat, introducing herself to voters is a must. Olszewski, at his picnic, addresses voters by name, though in some cases the name tags on their shirts might have helped.

Olszewski, a Dundalk native, seems to have become something of a political force in this Democrat-heavy district, where he rose through the ranks of a local political club. His son was recently named to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates. He has more than $130,000 to spend in his campaign for a third term, according to state financial reports, and he's able to draw voters to events such as the picnic, held on a recent Saturday.

Olszewski uses some of the afternoon to introduce voters to Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who is running for state attorney general. But 7th District residents also have a chance to tell Olszewski what's on their minds.

"We have got to take care of the rat problem," one man who lives in the Colgate neighborhood tells Olszewski. "It's to the point where I'm going to start naming them."

The councilman says he is forming a task force to address the health concern and wants to come up with a range of solutions.

Myer has made rats one of her main campaign issues. She says she'd like the county to offer reduced-cost supplies to combat the rodents, such as rat-proof trash bins, similar to the county's program for reduced-cost compost bins.

And in order to rid an area of rats, Myer said, "Code enforcement actually has to happen."

Meyer has been involved with the Millers Island community association since 1996, shortly after she moved to the county from the city. But when Tropical Storm Isabel caused so much damage in 2003 that she and many of her neighbors were driven from their homes, she rallied the victims together.

She founded the "Isabel Victims Citizens Group," and talked with state and federal officials to push reform of the federal flood insurance program. Last year, with her retirement imminent, Myer announced that she wanted to run for the County Council, saying she wanted to do more to improve the community.

"Just imagine what I can do now that I'm back on my feet," said Myer, whose waterfront home has been repaired. "There was just a feeling I had, that ... maybe I'm the person to step in and get things done."

She says one of the main issues facing the district is the high concentration of social programs, such as government-assisted housing, and services that occupy storefronts.

"All these programs are needed," Myer said. "But when you put such a high concentration, it burdens that area to where it can make it crumble. ... We need a mix of incomes.

"Why can't we have a Target? Or a Whole Foods?" she said, adding that the area could also use a nighttime medical center of the sort that has become popular as an alternative to emergency rooms.

Myer had raised about $14,000 by mid-August, according to reports filed with the county Elections Board. But, she said, she has raised more in recent weeks, receiving about $29,000 total from supporters of her campaign.

Olszewski has been talking with voters about the "unprecedented" number of projects to revitalize Dundalk and Essex, such as the $12 million renovation of the former YMCA building in Dundalk, the improvements to streets in Essex, and the acquisitions of Kingsley Park and Yorkway apartments.

"But there's still work to be done," said Olszewski, adding that creating more housing for relocating military personnel and helping create local jobs are among his priorities.

Both he and Myer are opposed to the proposed liquefied natural gas terminal at Sparrows Point.

Olszewski, a 46-year-old safety compliance officer for an automobile import and export company, is a Dundalk native. He lives in Edgemere and two years ago purchased a nearby waterfront lot to build a retirement home with his wife, Sherry, a cafeteria worker. The couple has three sons.

Myer, who has two daughters, lives in Millers Island with her husband, Carter, a retired city police officer who works at a local trucking company.

The winner of the Sept. 12 primary will face Republican challenger Raymond J. Krul, a retired Rosedale businessman, in the Nov. 7 general election. Krul, 82, is a World War II Army veteran who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont's running mate in 1978.

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