Mailing shatters the calm of a campaign

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

October 29, 2006|By Larry Carson

With nine days to the Nov. 7 election, state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader's re-election campaign is charged with adrenalin from a very unlikely source -- backers of her opponent, Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

Until the mailing last week of two glossy attack ads by the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee slate, Republican Schrader and Democrat Robey seemed almost like congenial colleagues on the campaign trail, with just a few sparks struck over tax policy.

But that changed abruptly Monday.

The two anti-Schrader ads attempted to point out that Schrader voted against bills that would have allowed the so-called "morning-after pill" to be sold to women without a prescription, but instead appeared to say she somehow had blocked the sale of birth control pills. Each brochure listed a bill number, but one was incorrect and the other failed to include the year. Readers were left pondering photos of birth control pill packs under red headlines reading, "Banned in Howard County."

FOR THE RECORD - In an article published Sunday in the Howard section of The Sun about several Democrats and independents who have endorsed Republican Christopher J. Merdon for Howard County Executive, Cynthia Coyle's name was misspelled.
The Sun regrets the error.

Schrader brought in veteran Republican political consultant Carol L. Hirschburg and held two news conferences to denounce Robey in front of the county office building, accusing him Wednesday of perpetrating "one of the worst political smears in Howard County history." She added that he had tried to ruin her reputation as a moderate Republican who favors women's rights, and noted that she -- like fellow Howard County state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat -- had voted against the bills to keep teenage girls from getting the morning-after pills.

Robey's initial response that he knew nothing about the brochures or the group that issued them gave Schrader more ammunition after her staff obtained copies of the forms Robey filed with state election officials in September officially enrolling in the slate committee, which is headed by state Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller.

"Shame on him if he didn't know what's going out [on his behalf]," Schrader said Wednesday. "He's a big boy. It's his job to know what's going on."

Robey said Wednesday that he had been confused, not realizing the committee he had signed up for to help pay campaign expenses was the same one that had issued the fliers.

"If you asked me to describe who they are or what they do, I could not do that," Robey said, though he said he did speak once with Miller and understood the group was paying his campaign manager Matt Patton's salary, and for some polling and other expenses.

Robey said he is committed to a positive campaign and the attack ads are "not my style," but he would not repudiate them, saying in a statement that "the mailings have been abrupt, but not inaccurate. The fact remains that I will stand strong for a woman's right to choose at every opportunity, and Senator Schrader's record clearly demonstrates she will not."

Robey then accused Schrader of distorting his record on taxes in her campaign mailing. Robey pushed through a 30 percent increase in the local income tax in 2003 but opposed a council move to raise property tax rates in 1999, and he cut property tax rates by 3 cents this year.

"I could put the same charges on her about the piece on taxes," he said.

Finally, after explaining his position, Robey said: "I'm done talking about this."

For a candidate who felt he was winning without controversy before the birth-control flap, it's an understandable stance.

Support for Merdon

A small group of registered Democrats, independents and a few Republicans met at Columbia's lakefront Monday afternoon to declare support for Republican county executive candidate Christopher J. Merdon, and the candidate briefly choked with emotion in thanking them.

"It's very difficult to say anything right now. It's very humbling to have people sand up in public," he said, pausing.

Mary Catherine Cochran, the daughter of Ed Cochran, a former Democratic county executive, and sister of Courtney Watson, a Democrat running for Merdon's County Council seat, led the group. With her was Angela Beltram, another Democrat and former County Council member who led opposition to the multiple rezoning bill known as "Comp Lite" that Merdon opposed and Democrat Ken Ulman supported.

Thirteen of the 21 people on the group's list appeared, along with some of Merdon's campaign workers. Among the 13 were Martha Clark, daughter of the late Democratic state Sen. James Clark, and several Columbia Association board members, Barbara Russell of Oakland Mills, who also is a former County Council employee, and Cynthia Coile, an independent who represents Harper's Choice. Several others, including Dorothy L. Moore, the retired Community Action Council director, and Vivian Bailey, have supported Merdon all along.

Most based their support on Merdon's advocacy for more growth controls. Beltram said she will vote for Democrats in other races, including Watson for council, Benjamin L. Cardin for Senate, and Martin O'Malley for governor.

Ulman said the group's support is inconsequential.

"I have very strong, deep support among Democrats and independents," Ulman said. "This is an attempt [by Merdon] to paint himself in a light his record does not demonstrate."

Said independent candidate C. Stephen Wallis: "I feel pretty confident independents will be backing me. Howard County residents should realize the importance of substance."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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