District 5 hopefuls hone message

Brushing numbers aside, they reach out to voters

Maryland Votes 2006

18 Days Until Nov. 7

October 20, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN REPORTER

Republican candidate Greg Fox has the numbers on his side in Howard County's Council District 5, where registered Republican voters outnumber Democratic voters by more than 4,000.

But that hasn't stopped him from waving at motorists during the morning rush hour or knocking on doors on weekends "I don't feel I can take anything in this world for granted," he said.

Democratic candidate Don Dunn isn't trusting the numbers either, pointing to his years of community advocacy and activities as a way to attract senior citizens, families of young athletes, farmers, golfers and fellow beekeepers, regardless of party affiliation.

"You don't worry about the numbers. What you do is get your message out," said Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Michael McPherson.

District 5 is the only one in the county with more Republican voters than Democrats and a long history of electing Republican leaders. The seat is held by Charles C. Feaga, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy and is ineligible to run because of term limits.

The district has more than 6,000 voters registered as unaffiliated.

The two candidates agree on the importance of issues such as managing growth, controlling property taxes - particularly for senior citizens - and providing public services, but their approaches and personal appeal have become an important part of their campaigns in the large western district.

Fox estimates he has knocked on close to 3,000 doors and appeared "everywhere and anywhere" that he can meet voters.

"It's about people getting to know me more than every issue," he said. "It's getting out and interacting with people, getting them comfortable with you."

Fox, 39, who lives in Fulton with his wife and two children, said he wants to ensure government processes will be open, people's concerns will be heard and creative solutions will be found.

He said he was frustrated with the school redistricting process a few years ago that was one of his first forays into community advocacy. The more recent "Comp Lite" zoning process was another issue that he said angered voters with a lack of transparency.

Dunn's campaign has been more modest, with a door-to-door effort focused on areas in the southwest and a small budget for signs. But he said people in his district know him from his efforts to expand minor sports in schools, build a public golf course and advocate for a county revenue authority that would be able to build affordable housing.

"I know a lot of people from different aspects [of the community]," Dunn said. "I've been controversial about a lot of things, but I've done it in a friendly way."

Dunn, 77, is retired from a career managing manufacturing operations. He and his wife have five children and live in western Ellicott City.

He was a board member for the First Tee golf program for youths and has served on the Howard County Recreation and Parks Board. He is a member of the Howard County Commission on Aging.

He said running for the County Council is "a logical extension" of his activities. Ordinary residents "don't have the advantage of the bully pulpit to bring these issues out in the open," he said.

He said he has more managerial and life experience than his opponent and other candidates, and that he is less influenced by donors.

"I'm the only one that can provide a balance wheel," he said. "They are setting themselves up for the next political advancement."

Fox, who is director of business development for Constellation Energy Projects & Services, said that if elected, he wouldn't plan to seek another office soon.

"At this point, this is an office where I can give back to the community and still provide the family time I need to raise my children," he said.

Fox said he has been active in the community for 16 years. He was appointed to the Howard County Public Works Board, the Howard County Childcare Task Force and volunteers with the Fulton Elementary School PTA as a soccer coach.

He ran for the County Council in District 4 in 1998, before redistricting, and he has been active in the local Republican Party for many years. When Feaga's seat became open, he said, "they needed someone to step up."

Fox said he has been working with other council candidates and public officials on a plan to offer property tax relief for senior citizens 65 and older. He has noted the need for more police officers on patrol in western Howard and better fire safety in the rural areas without hydrants.

Dunn's platform talks about tax relief that would let senior citizens remain in their homes as they age. He said he wants more affordable housing, more recreational opportunities and better planning of transportation, schools and other public facilities before growth is allowed.

He said the County Council is "simply not qualified" to serve as the zoning board and he wants zoning decisions handled by a planning professional who will interpret the law and not allow so many variances from it.

Other issues, he said, will require a regional approach, including traffic congestion from other counties and affordable housing. One thing he would like to see is a light rail line along Interstate 70.

"I'm going to get in there and change the discussion," Dunn said. "Once I get my hands on something, I don't let go."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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