Watson ad with Merdon quote riles Republicans

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

November 05, 2006|By Larry Carson

Republican county executive candidate Christopher J. Merdon often talks about his ability to work with Democrats in a bipartisan manner, but a flap over a newspaper political ad shows that can be a tough balancing act.

Courtney Watson, a Democrat, and Merdon have worked on school crowding and other issues in Ellicott City for years, but Watson's use of that association in promoting her candidacy for the County Council seat Merdon is vacating is raising hackles among Republicans.

As a Republican, Merdon is expected by the party to back GOP nominee Tony Salazar for County Council. Merdon has said nice things about him but has not formally endorsed any county candidates.

Salazar is hopping mad about Watson's ad in a weekly Ellicott City newspaper that included a quote from Merdon saying, "She will do a great job on the County Council."

Salazar denounced the ad in an e-mail, saying he "was shocked and dismayed" to see it and called the Merdon quote a "fabrication and misrepresentation." He demanded that Watson apologize.

Merdon said in an e-mail that, "although I did suggest that Ms. Watson could be a good addition to the County Council, my statement was intended in the spirit of graciousness at a social event, not as a formal political endorsement."

Earlier, he e-mailed Salazar that, "I never said the statement and did not give her permission to use my name or any quote in the advertisement."

Watson, who has served as a nonpartisan school board member for the past four years, said in an e-mail that "Chris and I have worked together to bridge the gap that too often separates elected officials on opposite sides of the aisle." Merdon's "kind words," she agreed, were uttered at a social event, and she understands that he has not endorsed anyone.

Another ad war

The negative ad war continues in Howard's legislative District 13 -- note the recent Democratic mailing that confronted voters with the rear end of a (presumably GOP) elephant. And the district's state Senate race between Republican incumbent Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and Democratic challenger James N. Robey isn't the only front.

Two Republican Party ads attacking three-term Del. Frank S. Turner were mailed to independent and Republican voters recently, one criticizing Turner's vote in 2000 in favor of an eminent-domain bill involving Baltimore County, the other tagging him as a tax-and-spend Democrat.

Turner appears to be the only Democrat targeted in the House race in a field that includes Democratic incumbent Shane E. Pendergrass and Guy Guzzone, a two-term County Council member.

Opposing them are Republicans Mary Beth Tung, who ran in 2002, Loretta Gaffney and the Rev. Rick Bowers.

"Frank Turner sided with the Democratic monopoly in defeating more than 20 pieces of legislation that would protect private property," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party.

Turner decried the ads.

"I've always run positive campaigns," he said. "It's pretty sad."

He voted for the eminent-domain bill because he viewed it as a Baltimore County issue, he said, and more recently opposed amending the Maryland Constitution on eminent domain because he felt the issue over one case was insufficient reason to change the state charter.

Turner went on to say that the taking of private property for private economic redevelopment has not been an issue in Howard County. Typically, eminent domain is used to obtain land for public uses such roads, schools and parks.

Tung said she didn't pay for the ads and hadn't seen one until it came in the mail Monday. "There were no discussions at all with the state party on mailings," she said.

But she said Turner is open to criticism on the eminent-domain issue. The bill affecting Baltimore County -- later overturned in a referendum -- allowed eminent domain to be used to acquire homes and businesses in Essex and Randallstown for redevelopment.

Tung said that once such authority is allowed in one jurisdiction, "then it's easier to do it in our county." Some small-business owners along the U.S. 1 corridor worry about exactly that, she said.

In the Schrader-Robey tussle, Schrader has taken to the Baltimore airwaves with a television ad attacking Robey over an ad on his behalf that she contends distorts or lies about her record on birth control. She also issued a mailing assailing Robey on women's issues.

The Democrats struck back with a piece picturing the rear end of an elephant over the words "Cleaning up after the herd." It seeks to link Schrader with "the Republican political herd."

For voters tired of low-brow rhetoric and attacks, consider the view expressed by Jodi Finkelstein, director of the Howard County Domestic Violence Center.

"Both [Robey and Schrader] are extremely supportive of the center and the work we do," she said.

Franchot in Columbia

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