Democrats look west for opportunity

political notebook

GOP eyeing comeback

March 08, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Democrats gathered for a fundraiser last week at an Ellicott City home were cheered by the presence of Michelle Obama's aunt and uncle.

But the event's focus was strictly local.

Both major parties appear to be gearing up for an aggressive battle next year. Democrats want to press their advantage from the past two elections and use President Barack Obama's popularity, while Republicans work on a comeback theme.

Party Chairman Michael C.A. McPherson introduced three Democrats planning to run for House of Delegates seats in western Howard now held by Republican Dels. Warren E. Miller and Gail H. Bates.

Only three of Howard's 11 representatives in the General Assembly are Republicans (Sen. Allan H. Kittleman is the third) and all are from District 9, which covers the western county stretching east into Ellicott City.

"We have to increase Democratic presence in the western part of the county," McPherson said to about 75 party members gathered at the home of Irfan and Erum Malik.

The three potential candidates at the fundraiser were Jon Weinstein and Rich Corkran, who've already declared, and one newcomer, Maryann Maher, of western Ellicott City.

Maher said she's an IT consultant and mother of three who has never run for office before but is eager to try. She and her family moved here from Montgomery County in 2004.

Joan Becker, the county Republican chairwoman, said Republicans will be targeting seats held by Democrats, too.

"In 2006 and 2008, the referendum was on George Bush, but in 2010 there's going to be a referendum on the economy," she said. "I see this as a really good chance for Republicans to take back some seats."

Miller also said Republicans plan a hearty effort next year.

"Their party is to blame for our current economic woes and they're wasting all this taxpayer money," he said. "It's not going to be a year we're just trying to hold on to District 9."

Miller's theme for next year?

"Things were great when the Republicans were running Congress."

State's Attorney Dario Broccolino, appointed last year to fill out the term of Timothy J. McCrone, who became a Circuit Court judge, also attended the event and said he plans to run for election to a full term. He'll be 66 when the election rolls around, but he's not ready for retirement.

"I still have a lot of energy left," Broccolino said. "I don't feel ready to retire."

The first lady's aunt and uncle - Stanette and Carleton Robinson of Columbia - did not speak, but one attendee commented for them after McPherson introduced them to the crowd.

"And no, they can't get you into the White House," Kristen Neville shouted, to laughter.

Bus future clouded

When state transportation officials were threatening to end commuter bus service connecting Baltimore to Columbia and reduce it elsewhere in Howard County, hundreds of riders turned out to protest and County Executive Ken Ulman stepped in with $200,000 in county funds to help preserve it through this fiscal year.

But what about next year?

Henry Kay, deputy administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, told a meeting of Transportation Advocates recently that what he termed an "unprecedented" local contribution might have to become permanent to keep those buses running. As a temporary measure, Kay said it worked well.

"It was the best outcome we could have had," Kay told the group, which meets quarterly at the Florence Bain Senior Center.

With a $60 million reduction in MTA operating revenue for this year and federal stimulus money restricted to capital projects, it's hard to keep from cutting service, Kay said.

"We'll be talking to the county executive about what to do about fiscal 2010," Kay said.

From his perspective, Kay said the choices seem clear when budget reductions come.

"A North Avenue bus [in Baltimore] is so crowded, people are standing with their faces pressed against the glass," he said. "The Howard commuter bus is two-thirds full one way and empty the other way."

It's easier to save money by cutting more lightly used commuter services, he said.

"I don't know what the future of that is," he said.

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