Political Notebook: Candidates voice predictable themes at forums

As reality television, the Howard County League of Women Voters' candidate forums aren't exactly competition for "The Real Housewives of D.C.," but there will still be 19 reruns this month of the various General Assembly and congressional candidates' discussions last week on the two Howard County government channels, Verizon's 44 and Comcast's 99.

Tuesday night, those running for county executive and council get their turn before the cameras at the county school board headquarters.

The forums are predictably low-key, and the General Assembly candidates running in Howard tried to impress viewers with their sincerity, their credentials -- both family and professional -- and their often equally predictable and often-vague solutions to Maryland's problems. Howard County is base for three legislative districts: 9A, 12 and 13, though roughly half of District 12 is in Baltimore County.

Democrats, who hold six of Howard's eight seats in the House of Delegates and two of the three state Senate seats, stressed Maryland's relative prosperity, fueled by a top-notch school system. Republicans, who hold sway only in District 9A, talked about the need for more political equality in Annapolis, as well as their desire to cut both state spending and taxes.

"These are tough times; make no mistake about it," said state Sen. James N. Robey, a District 13 Democrat and former county executive and police chief. "We have focused on education and it brings people here to good-paying jobs."

But Republican leader state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman had another viewpoint.

"The root cause of the problems in the Maryland General Assembly is one-party rule," Kittleman told the audience. "We don't have a two-party system." He urged the election of more GOP members.

Jim Adams, Kittleman's Democratic opponent, criticized the incumbent's voting rating from education and environmental groups.

Robey has two Republicans, Kyle Lorton and Jody Venkatasen, vying for a chance to run against him. Lorton, a petrochemical executive with W.R. Grace and Co., called for state budget cuts and more help for business to grow revenues. Venkatasen, an accountant, echoed those themes, as Democratic delegates running with Robey echoed his.

"My opponents feel the way to get out [of the recession] is to spend money," said Loretta Gaffney, a GOP candidate for delegate in District 13.

Ed Priola, another Republican, said he wants to "end the tax-and-spend mentality, make Maryland a business-friendly state" and impose a two-term limit on legislators.

Republicans also used an old question popularized in 1980 by then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.

"Can you honestly say your family finances are in better shape now than they were four years ago?" asked Jeff Robinson, another GOP delegate candidate. Democrats stuck to their own playbook.

"We've worked to create a quality of life [in Howard County] that has become the envy of the nation," said Del. Guy Guzzone, a District 13 Democrat and former County Council member.

Del. Frank Turner, a Democrat with 16 years in Annapolis, was the only candidate to say several specific taxes may rise next year. He said alcohol taxes, unchanged for decades, may rise, and the state may adjust the way it collects corporate income tax. But he, too, stressed the positive, talking about the thousands of good-paying jobs created in the Gateway Business Park along Interstate 95, where two decades ago an amusement park was proposed.

"Jobs are moving in everywhere," he said.

In Kittleman's District 9A, Del. Warren E. Miller, another Republican, said he's a "common-sense conservative voice" supported by business groups. Democrat Jon Weinstein promised to be "an independent voice" and efficiency expert who will "improve government performance."

Democratic state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the Senate majority leader, rejected the Republican charges, saying the state is already doing its best. "I really believe we managed the situation as well as could be," he said.

But his opponent, Rick Martel, said, "I've got children who are college graduates who can't find a job. Why are there no jobs?"

Klein gets Sierra Club nod

The Democratic primary battle between County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and challenger Alan Klein heated up a bit last week when the county's Sierra Club chapter endorsed three of the four sitting Democrats on the council and County Executive Ken Ulman -- pointedly excluding Sigaty. The environmental group chose Klein instead, and spokeswoman Nancy Davis said plans for redeveloping downtown Columbia "fail to match" the club's environmental goals, and may actually do them harm.

Davis said the group endorsed the other Democrats, who like Sigaty voted for the downtown rezoning, and Ulman, who also supported it, because there wasn't a more attractive choice.

"We have to meet a very high standard when we don't endorse an incumbent," she said. Klein, she felt, meets that standard.

"Alan is a strong pro-environment advocate who is best known for his community activism defending downtown Columbia from hyper-development," Davis said in a prepared statement. In his own remarks at a news conference Tuesday at the Columbia Lakefront, Klein said, "Development is the primary source of lack of sustainability in the county." If elected, he said, he'd work to hold developers to their word in the downtown project.

Sigaty, who is the council's representative on the Patuxent River Commission, said exactly the opposite is true. First, she said the redevelopment plan is environmentally friendly "Smart Growth," and more importantly, would vastly upgrade environmental protections on acres of paved services created before stormwater regulations were conceived. Downtown Columbia, she said, is the only place in the county where developers are being required to do environmental restoration as part of their projects.

"Whatever we do down there will reduce runoff from what we have today," she said, adding that she described in detail all of the council's environmental efforts in the downtown plan when club members interviewed her.

Ken Clark, the Sierra Club chairman, said the club took no position on the downtown plan while it was under consideration because of mixed feelings among the members. "It has a lot of positive things in it," he said, though some do object to the density. The club likes Klein's opinions on environmental issues, he said, which is why he was chosen. "There's not a lot we can say about Klein because he hasn't held office," Clark said.

In other election news, Democrat Ulman has opened his campaign headquarters in a vacant storefront in the Lakeside Retail shopping center across the street from the county's temporary offices in East Columbia. The official opening gala was scheduled for Friday night at the spot, at 8865 Stanford Blvd., just off Dobbin Road. Republicans have a joint headquarters in another storefront off St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City.

Ball may be unopposed

County Councilman Calvin Ball, a Democrat, is happily contemplating a possibly unopposed ride to a new four-year term, since his last potential primary challenger, Reginald T. Avery, failed to come up with the signatures required by Aug. 2 to get his name on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. Anthony Jordan, a Republican who was running against Ball, announced his withdrawal last week, though he failed to make his move soon enough to get his name off the primary ballot. That means he will win the Republican nomination, and can then withdraw formally, possibly leaving Ball unopposed.

But Republican chairwoman Joan Becker has said the party will name a candidate for the general election after the Sept. 14 primary, once Jordan formally withdraws. No one has yet come forward, however.

"I'm going to stay focused on serving the residents of my district," a cautious Ball said about the situation.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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