Democrats rally and hit the streets before Sept. 14 primary

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings accused Republicans of deliberately trying to make economic conditions worse for their own political gain at a Democratic Labor Day picnic Monday, as political rhetoric among Democrats heats up with Election Day's approach.

Cummings, who represents most of western Howard County and Ellicott City, made a long, impassioned speech at the annual picnic at Cedar Lane Park, which also drew retired U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who accompanied his son, Rep. John Sarbanes (who represents portions of the eastern county). Two days earlier, Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat seeking re-election, did some door-knocking in Columbia's Long Reach Village after speaking to about 50 Democrats at one of the county's three early-voting sites.

"We've done everything we know how to do in Congress to make sure jobs increase, but first we had to stop the bleeding," Cummings told a crowd of more than 100 people. "But we're opposed at almost every angle by our Republican friends," he said. "It is very upsetting to me that anyone would say, 'We do not want the country to do well so we can win an election.' I have a major problem with that." His question for Republicans, he said, is a simple one:

"Why don't you root for the home team?" If the GOP has a better idea, he said "present it."

Paul Sarbanes said the GOP is being taken over by "the most extreme elements" in the party, such as talk-show personality Glenn Beck. "These kind of forces are running wild," he said. If Republicans "get back in, they'll make it worse," he added, drawing a laugh with a reference to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking his job back.

"We're going to have a rerun of Ehrlich?" Sarbanes said to laughter. "Who's kidding? I'm starting to shake about it," he said, still joking.

Joan Becker, Howard's Republican Party chairwoman, rejected Cumming's comments as inaccurate. "There isn't any Republican that I know who wants the economy to fail," she said. "I can't even imagine" such a sentiment. She, like other Republicans, said that Democrats' legislation simply isn't doing the job. "The stimulus hasn't jump-started the economy."

The picnic attracted nearly every Democratic incumbent, though neither Alan Klein nor John Bailey attended. Klein is trying to unseat County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty in the Sept. 14 primary, while Bailey is trying to do likewise to Del. Elizabeth Bobo in General Assembly District 12b. Both Sigaty and Bobo attended.

O'Malley knocks

O'Malley and County Executive Ken Ulman were delighted at the reception they received Sept. 4 from homeowners along Flamepool Way, Wild Apple and Goldamber Garth, just north of Route 175 off Tamar Drive. O'Malley visited the neighborhood after a quick rally in Jessup at the Ridgeley Community Center, one of the three early-voting sites on Mission Road near U.S. 1.

Ulman told about 50 Democrats that at least a dozen volunteers are manning phone banks daily at his expansive headquarters in a shopping center off Dobbin Road. O'Malley told the group his re-election might be so close that virtually anything could tip things. "Howard County can be the difference in this race. It can be decided by 1 [percentage] point either way," he said.

On the way north along U.S. 1 to Long Reach, Republican county executive candidate Trent Kittleman was waving signs at motorists at the busy intersection with Route 175.

O'Malley loved the voters he ran into on Flamepool, such as Christine Zidek, 43, who told him that when she watches Ehrlich complain about things he didn't get done while governor, "the only thing missing from his mouth is a [baby] binky." Her 16-year-old daughter suffers from Rett syndrome, a progressive neurological disorder. While Ehrlich was governor, she said, the state severely cut funding for the home nursing help she needs, and administration officials seemed unsympathetic to their plight.

"I had cancer too, and I had to fight tooth and nail to get some services" for her daughter, she said. Under O'Malley, she said, the state's attitude was much better. "I know he's not the perfect man," she said about O'Malley, "and we don't get everything we need, but at least we're not out there begging. This administration has made it possible for her to go to Johns Hopkins [Hospital] without us going $50,000 in debt."

A few minutes later, Ulman's face lit up upon meeting Umer Chaudhry, 21, and his brother Sharjeel, 19, who both grew up in Columbia, attended county public schools and said they are now both students at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. They were home for Labor Day weekend.

"All the kids at Cornell know about Howard County," Umer told Ulman, mentioning the recent Money magazine article rating Columbia/Ellicott City as the second-best place in the nation to live. "They all know the jobs are in Maryland," and many students at their college seek summer internships in the Central Maryland area. "We're big O'Malley fans," Umer said, The governor's campaign aides recorded all the positive comments for use as campaign videos.

Gerald Wright, 56, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood whose brother, Alexander Wright Jr., is a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, told O'Malley, "I have seven brothers and sisters, and they're all of voting age and they're all voting for you."

'Republicans for Watson'

In a tough race for re-election to the County Council, Ellicott City/Elkridge Democrat Courtney Watson announced Tuesday the formation of a "Republicans for Watson" group comprising 41 people as she works to fend off a challenge from former state delegate and Maryland transportation secretary Robert L. Flanagan, a Republican. Watson quoted four members of the group in her news release.

"She treats tax dollars as if they were her own and questions every line item in the budget," said Burnet Chalmers in the announcement. Chalmers is one of a number of residents near the historic Belmont estate in Elkridge who applauded Watson's opposition to county purchase of the place for Howard Communtiy College, which is now trying to sell it.

Flanagan acknowledged the group but said he'll win the seat anyway.

"Even some Republicans think the Democratic monopoly is the only game in town, but we're going to break up that monopoly," Flanagan said.

Final financial reports

Alan Klein, the insurgent Democrat trying to unseat incumbent county councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, raised $5,535 to Sigaty's $1,928 in the latest reporting period covering August 3 to August 29, but Sigaty maintained a large cash edge. She had $28,766 left on hand to Klein's $7,931 for the final push.

In the other West Columbia primary, Del. Elizabeth Bobo raised $785 to John Bailey's $250, but Bobo had $51,374 left on hand to Bailey's $583. Election day is Tuesday.

The unkown entities are the "Team 4 Slate Committee" that includes both Sigaty and Ulman, and the simlar Democrats for a Sustainable Howard Slate committee ofr Bobo and Klein, formed September 7, after the last reporting deadline.Bobo sais she formed her slate in reaction to Ulman's but said "I'm not sure how I'm going to use it."

The Ulman/Sigaty committee has not reported activity so far, and Sigaty said no large transfers of funds are planned, but now that the final pre-primary report is filed, Ulman can legally transfer as much of his more than $700,000 to the slate committee as he wants without having to report it until after the primary. The same applies to Bobo and Klein. Sigaty and Colin O'Dea, Ulman's campaign manager, both denied any intention to do that, however..

"We formed a slate committee to be able to do some things together," Sigaty said. "I do not anticipate getting any money out of Ken's treasury." O'Dea said no major transfers are planned. "That was never the intention," he said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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