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Despite another challenge to residency, Helton on ballot in Harford Senate race

Former state senator Art Helton, and his wife Ann, are shown at a vigil for child abuse survivors in Bel Air in April 2013. Art Helton is running once again for his old Senate seat. Election officials accepted his filing papers despite a challenge brought by political opponents who say the Heltons don't live in the 34th Legislative District.
Former state senator Art Helton, and his wife Ann, are shown at a vigil for child abuse survivors in Bel Air in April 2013. Art Helton is running once again for his old Senate seat. Election officials accepted his filing papers despite a challenge brought by political opponents who say the Heltons don't live in the 34th Legislative District. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO, The Aegis)

Art Helton is again seeking the State Senate seat he held more than three decades ago and, as happened when he ran four years ago, his residency has been challenged.

As of the close of filing last month, Helton's name was entered in the Democratic primary for the senate seat representing Legislative District 34, covering most of southern Harford County and the greater Bel Air area.

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State elections officials accepted Helton's application, despite efforts by two longtime political opponents to keep him out of the race on the claim he doesn't live within the district, as required by state law.

Helton's filing papers list an Aberdeen address, at 3 S. Rogers St., that is within the district; however, Barbara Osborn Kreamer and Mike Hiob, both former elected officials in Harford County, complained to state elections officials last September that the Rogers Street address is an office owned by Helton and his actual residence is 3069 Harmony Church Road in Darlington.

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The latter address is within the neighboring 35th Legislative District.

The Maryland Board of Elections initially agreed with Kreamer and Hiob, ordering on Dec. 10, 2013 that Helton and his wife, Ann Helton, promptly change their bona fide addresses on their voter registration to the Darlington property.

Filed appeal

But Helton, who appealed the ruling, says he had received a call from Harford County's board of elections telling him he would be declared an Aberdeen resident and was welcome to file in District 34.

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Helton noted his appeal of the state elections board's decision has yet to be formally heard.

Harford Elections Director Kevin Keene said Helton brought in affidavits from community members testifying he lives in Aberdeen.

The state board had said the local board could allow Helton to file, if he brought in proof of any residency change, Keene said.

Keene said he conferred with the state board and told Helton he was allowed to file, about a week after Helton turned in the paperwork.

"It does come down to being our call," Keene said.

The state board's website lists Helton as a Democratic candidate for the Senate seat as of Feb. 10, with his address listed on South Rogers, in Aberdeen.

Not 'above the law'

Kreamer said she isn't sure what happened but would be putting forth another complaint against the state board for accepting Helton's application.

"The citizens of Harford County are entitled to a candidate who lives in our district," Kreamer, an Aberdeen resident, said. "This is a matter of law and the Heltons are not above the law."

Kreamer and Hiob, who also lives in Aberdeen, have squabbled with Helton over a variety of issues, some personal as well as political. All three are Democrats.

Hiob is a former Aberdeen city councilman who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009, losing to a candidate, Mike Bennett, who was heavily backed financially by Helton. Kreamer is a former Harford County Council member and two-term House of Delegates member.

Kreamer is running in the Democratic primary for the District E seat on the Harford County Council.

Helton called the latest challenge "political dirty tricks," explaining that he has a farm in Darlington but definitely lives in Aberdeen.

"It's an obvious attempt to discredit me," he said, adding: "When you run for office, you are subject to anyone doing anything they want to do."

Unseated in 1982

Helton represented southern Harford County in the State Senate from 1975 to 1983. He lost his seat after being defeated in the 1982 Democratic primary and has made several attempts to regain it since, most recently in 2010, when he lost in the general election to incumbent Sen. Nancy Jacobs.

Though the Republican Jacobs was seeking her fourth term in the Senate, the 2010 general election turned out to be close. Helton led narrowly in the Harford County portion of the district, which at the time included western Cecil County. Jacobs swamped him in Cecil, however, and won as a result.

Redistricting since the last election added the Bel Air area to District 34 and moved western Cecil into District 35 with the rest of northern Harford. Jacobs has decided to retire when her term ends.

Helton's opponent in the Democratic primary is veteran Del. Mary-Dulany James of Havre de Grace. Bob Cassilly, a former county councilman from Bel Air, is unopposed in the Republican primary and will face the winner of the Helton-James race in November.

The latest controversy over Helton's residence mirrors a 2010 case brought forward by his Democratic primary opponent, Rovall Washington, in which a Harford County Circuit Court judge ultimately ruled Helton could continue as a candidate.

Complied with ruling

In the 2010 case, Helton argued he lived on Joppa's Ravenswood Court, also within District 34. Washington claimed Helton lived at the Harmony Church Road house in Darlington, but the judge in the case ruled that Helton had the right to live between two places.

Keene noted he has to comply with the 2010 ruling.

He said any new appeals of Helton's candidacy would have to go through the county's Circuit Court. No records of appeals had been filed as of Wednesday, he said.

Kreamer said she and Hiob only want to ensure a political candidate is following the law.

"This is not a personal thing. This is a constitutional issue," Kreamer said. "To permit the Heltons to continue these false claims of residency just makes average citizens cynical about the political process."

"What is at stake here is the constitutional process and showing that everyone must follow the law. No one is above the law," she said.

"From those folks, nothing would surprise me," Helton said of Kreamer and Hiob. "I don't know what their problem is."

This story has been updated to reflect a correction from the earlier version with regard to the status of Art Helton's real estate holdings. The Aegis regrets the error.

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