Candidates prime for final push

Craig, Helton expected to step up attacks in campaign for Harford County executive

Maryland Votes 2006

October 29, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Candidates step up attacks Harford's candidates for county executive have begun a final direct-mail and television push that is expected to flood county homes with political attacks during the week and a half until Election Day.

The tone took a sharper edge last week as Republican County Executive David R. Craig hit back at Democratic opponent Ann C. Helton after enduring months of criticism from the challenger.

This week, voters in the county's southern and northern areas will get mailings from Craig tailored to crime issues facing their neighborhoods, and other pieces focused on seniors and farm preservation.

Helton, meanwhile, will continue to press Craig through direct mail and television commercials that question his record in Havre de Grace and his handling of development.

Since launching her campaign, Helton has told voters that developers are "selecting and electing" the county's politicians and has said that a majority of Craig's campaign cash comes from development-related interests. Craig counters that Helton and her husband, Arthur H. Helton Jr., are developers themselves and stand to gain.

"She wants to be anti-developer, but she's a developer," Craig said.

The ads surprised many political observers, given Craig's status as the favorite, and added to the candidates' dislike for each other.

One Craig ad shows a grainy, black-and-white picture of Helton. It says she was a one-term Anne Arundel County councilwoman who was "rejected by voters in 1978" and is now a developer who wants to "open Harford County up to more poorly planned housing."

Helton gave up her seat on the Anne Arundel County Council when she left to join then-Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis' unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign as his choice for lieutenant governor. She became the first woman to run on a gubernatorial ticket in Maryland with the selection.

The Heltons said that they develop commercial properties - not homes.

But Craig said, "They have been developers - who knows if they want to branch out." He maintained that both candidates' push for redevelopment along U.S. 40 would financially benefit the Heltons, who have completed many revitalization efforts in and around Aberdeen.

Another mailing from Craig features an old news clipping from The (Annapolis) Capital, which warned that Helton's cuts to the Anne Arundel County budget as a councilwoman could result in a delay of county services and layoffs of police officers.

George Harrison, Helton's campaign manager, said the article actually was a letter to the editor written by a political opponent of Helton.

"All [Craig] proved was that Ann is indeed the accomplished leader she claims to be," Harrison said in a news release. "She eliminated large chunks of fat from the budget proposal and reduced the tax rate at the same time, all without affecting vital services. And she convinced the other council members to follow her lead."

The flurry of ads likely are the last to criticize Helton; Craig said he will resume issues-based mailers and has shot two television advertisements that focus on his accomplishments.

Harrison said in an interview that Craig's latest mailing showed that he is concerned about the race.

"His mailings have been misleading at best and an outright fabrication at worst," Harrison said.

Nepotism was the topic of a Helton mailing sent out last week to Democratic homes, asking in large letters, "Is David Craig a Serial Nepotist?" It chided Craig for his alleged "friends and family approach to staffing Harford County Government." Since taking over as county executive, Craig's sister-in-law and son-in-law have been hired as county employees.

Another mailing sent by Helton's campaign showed a bird's-eye view of a California-style residential community, noting that the U.S. Census Bureau says there were 2,659 residential permits issued in Harford County in 2005, implying that Craig was responsible for allowing them to be issued under his watch.

Craig disputes the figure and accused Helton of trying to "mislead and frighten" voters. County numbers show there were 2,189 permits issued in 2005 - still the highest total since at least 1996 - though there were 1,121 issued during Craig's 12 months in office from July 2005 to July 2006.

Although the candidates continue to spar through the mail, neither has gone on the offensive in public forums.

Craig has continued his strategy of staying visible through government tours and announcements. Helton was scheduled to hold a rally in Joppatowne yesterday.

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