At The Fair, A Chance To Voice A Political Opinion

Political notebook

August 16, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

Republicans and Democrats are again competing for attention at the annual Howard County Fair, but this non-election year seems to have a bit more edge for some than usual, according to several volunteers manning the two party booths.

"Saturday morning, a man came by and said he'd never vote for a Republican," GOP central committee member Loretta Shields said. He was angry because of what he believes to be organized right-wing attempts to disrupt congressional town hall meetings on health care.

"There are just some people who come over just to talk and say stuff," Shields said, not to have a real conversation. The man just wanted to vent, she said.

Carole Fisher, a longtime Democratic stalwart and central committee member in the competing booth across the main walkway at the fair, said she's had similar experiences.

"I've done this for a long time and I never remember it being so nasty," Fisher said.

Cathy Zomlefer, vice chair of the county's Democratic State Central Committee, said some people just want to needle the opposition, though "four out of five [visitors] are on our side."

Some want to talk about the rumor about a "death plan" that is actually a proposal to allow Medicare to pay for a voluntary consultation with a doctor about advance directives and end-of-life care to avoid last-minute, emotion-wracked decisions that can split a family. Democrats try to set them straight, Zomlefer said, but most won't listen.

"They have their talking points. We pretty much don't argue," she said.

Back at the GOP booth, Karen Jacob, 45, stopped to buy a "I really miss Reagan" bumper sticker, along with one celebrating veterans' sacrifices. She used to be a Democrat, she said, but has read a lot about the issues and switched registrations several years back.

"The whole idea of what they [Democrats] are trying to do [on health care] is frightening," she said.

"Elderly people with health issues won't get care," she said is her understanding of the proposals. Besides, she said, "I don't want to give to people who aren't putting back" to society.

Still, most visitors ignore politics, both sides agreed, except perhaps for the Democrats' free chilled water jug, and the "It's cool to be Republican" hand-held fans.

Building promises

As the recession rolls on, there are a few bright spots locally.

Ronald Moore, a 49-year-old single parent who said he lives in rented quarters in Long Reach with his 18-year-old daughter and his mother, was delighted to win the right to buy one of three new town houses in Elkridge in the county's Moderate Income Housing Unit Plan. His new mortgage payment promises to be slightly lower than the $1,800 a month he's paying now for rent, he said.

"They're awesome," he said of the new Village Towns homes Ryan Homes is building between Interstate 95 and U.S. 1.

"I didn't want to move out of Howard County. It's a beautiful place to stay," he said. Moore said his daughter expects to attend Howard Community College this fall.

Moore's name was chosen Aug. 6 from four pre-qualified hopefuls along with two other families for the three-bedroom, one-car garage home. The homes sell under the program for $218,653, while they sell retail for more than $250,000 each.

County housing officials awarded the right to buy three Village Towns units that will be finished either late this year or early in 2010, and another drawing is scheduled for later this summer for four townhouses at Belmont Station, also along the U.S. 1 corridor, and three age-restricted condominiums at Jefferson Place on Montgomery Road in Ellicott City.

"Hah! Thank you," Moore celebrated as his name was chosen. He said he's a first-time home-buyer. He's retired from a 20-year military career, he said, and works for a major telecommunications firm in Laurel.

Another event celebrated a much more expensive new building.

The Johns Hopkins University may be thought of primarily as a Baltimore-based institution, but aside from the Hopkins-owned Howard County General Hospital, the university's nonprofit Applied Physics Laboratory is building a five-story, $60 million office structure - the first of a potential three new buildings in a new South Campus.

The official groundbreaking was Aug. 7, with U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, who represents the area, and County Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty both in attendance.

"I think it's fabulous for the county," Sigaty said. "It's help for an industry [construction] that's really hurting."

Sarbanes and Richard Roca, APL's director, talked about the close relationship the government has built up with the research center since it moved to the 399-acre Howard County campus from Silver Spring in 1954.

"The level of trust and confidence we have is not so easily come by," Sarbanes said to a crowd of about 100 people, noting that other government contractors have shown less reliability.

"The federal government has come to rely on Hopkins," Roca said in response, adding that Hopkins has directed $250 million to APL for projects just since 2000.

APL is the county's largest private employer, with 4,300 workers, and 550 of the scientists who work on military and civilian space projects will be concentrated in the new building, which replaces a former Westvaco Corp. building that was demolished on the 35-acre site. The new campus is directly across Johns Hopkins Road from APL's main campus.

The 200,000-square-foot new "Building 200" will try to meet the "Gold" environmental standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council with such things as a reflective roof, low-flow water fixtures and energy-saving lighting. The building is scheduled to be ready sometime in 2011. Models of APL-built spacecraft will adorn the lobby.

Harvey Cleary, a Houston-based contractor, is to construct the building, and expects to employ several hundred construction workers at the job's peak, said Mike Harvey, a principal with the firm who attended the groundbreaking. Grading and clearing operations have already begun.

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