Two shun Zimmer as GOP splits support

Gouge, Minnich stress record

Democrat Beard gets bipartisan backing

Commissioners

Maryland Votes 2006

October 29, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

In an unusually heated campaign season, the Carroll County commissioners' race is almost a struggle for future control of the local Republican Party.

Moderate GOP incumbents Julia W. Gouge and Dean L. Minnich hope to retain their seats, stressing their record of managed growth and open government. Michael D. Zimmer, the more conservative Republican, had called for "wiping the slate clean" in the primary by ousting the three-member board. He defeated one incumbent, Perry L. Jones Jr., in September.

Gouge, Minnich and Zimmer are far from a united Republican ticket.

"I'd like to see Julia and I stay in. I don't want to see Zimmer, but we'll work with whoever is elected," Minnich said recently.

Minnich, 64, and Gouge, 66, haven't gone so far as to endorse a Democrat, but other prominent Republicans in the county have said they will support Democrat Dennis E. Beard, another South Carroll resident, over Zimmer.

Campaign signs for Gouge, Minnich and Beard are cropping up on lawns across the county. Democrats describe Beard, 60, a retired Howard County firefighter and volunteer fireman in Sykesville, as a fiscal conservative with bipartisan appeal in the Republican-dominated county.

On his campaign literature, Beard pledges to keep a lid on taxes by growing the county's commercial-industrial tax base and providing cost-effective police and fire services.

"I'm a proud conservative Democrat," Beard said. "That's the way I was born and raised."

Among its candidates, the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee has poured the most funds into Beard's campaign. Republicans have also contributed to his campaign, have written letters and made calls on his behalf, Beard said.

"If Perry would have won, well first of all, you wouldn't see me raise this kind of money," Beard said.

Vincent F. DiPietro, 67, a retired Goddard Space Flight Center engineer from Sykesville, is the only other visible Democratic candidate for commissioner. He frequently speaks about renovating schools to limit the use of portable classrooms and promoting the use of the solar energy in the county.

For his environmental stands, DiPietro earned an endorsement from the Maryland Sierra Club along with Gouge and Minnich.

On education, Beard, Gouge and Minnich landed endorsements from the Carroll County Education Association.

A third Sykesville Democrat, Richard F. Solomon, avoids the campaign forums, has no campaign signs and has refused funds from the Democratic Central Committee.

As a private attorney, Zimmer, 42, has faced two professional violations. In addition to a 2003 reprimand by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland - an arm of the state's highest court that tracks complaints against lawyers - a Hampstead resident has sued Zimmer for malpractice in a case that is scheduled to go to trial in April.

In representing a woman injured in a 2001 Hanover, Pa., automobile accident, Zimmer and Westminster attorney Stephen P. Bourexis failed to inform their client they were not members of the Pennsylvania bar and let the statute of limitations run out on her claim, according to court documents.

For neglecting that case, Bourexis was suspended from practicing law for 60 days last year. Zimmer said he had stopped working for Bourexis in November 2002, before the lawsuit was filed.

"I can't be responsible for something that happens after I leave," Zimmer said.

Disputes between the commissioners and Carroll's state legislators over a transfer tax on home sales and a failed redistricting bill have remained in the forefront throughout this election.

The commissioners strained relationship with the delegation led them to put a code home rule referendum on the ballot that would bring more local control to the county, if approved by voters.

Beard and DiPietro both support the measure. Zimmer has criticized code home rule because it gives the commissioners power to enact up to a half-percent transfer tax.

Minnich said he and Gouge, a four-term incumbent, have lowered the cap on property taxes while investing in infrastructure that had been neglected by past administrations. They wanted more state funding for public education but pushed for what they could, Minnich said.

Water shortages were already an issue in the 2002 campaign, and Gouge has been talking up the issue for 20 years, since she first ran for county office.

"We're constantly depleting the groundwater, and it doesn't get a chance to recharge," Gouge said. "It's a real issue now."

To provide new water sources to satisfy current demand and future development, both incumbents support plans to build reservoirs at Gillis Falls and Union Mills.

Minnich and Gouge said they were disturbed but not surprised that religion has recently surfaced as an issue in the commissioners' race.

An e-mail circulating around the county had Carroll Del. Tanya T. Shewell describing Zimmer as "the only Christian running for this office."

Shewell said the e-mail misrepresented her words, since she never commented on the religious beliefs of the other commissioner candidates.

"I never said he was the only one who was Christian," Shewell said. "I said the only one I know to be a Christian, that's worked with me in Christian circles, is Mike Zimmer."

Some members of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Hampstead - where Gouge is an active member - were particularly upset.

"You don't go around telling people that you're a Christian," Gouge said. "Your actions should tell people upfront."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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