Can GOP's Bad Boy Be One of 'Dem'?


John Taylor is out of the cocoon.

That's the political cocoon that he says enveloped him as a Republican in Howard County.

As the bad-boy rabble-rouser of the slow- to no-growth crowd in Howard, Mr. Taylor says he never felt at home with the Republican Party's local leadership.

So he has thrown off his GOP cloak for what he hopes will be a more comfortable existence among the Democrats.

County Republican leaders are happy to see him go.

Mr. Taylor has been at loggerheads for years with County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the local Republican Party standard bearer, over the executive's unyielding support of economic development.

Mr. Taylor has been similarly upset over what he says was the refusal of Republican Party officials to share polling data with him in 1990 when he ran against County Councilman Charles C. pTC Feaga, another GOP regular, for a 5th District seat.

Mr. Taylor narrowly lost to Mr. Feaga in the primary that year, and he refused to endorse his challenger in the general election.

(Mr. Taylor now says he will probably run against Mr. Feaga again, only this time as a Democrat.)

All of this has left bad feelings on both sides of the political aisle.

GOP leaders such as Carol Arscott, former head of the Howard Republican Central Committee, sound similar refrains. Mr. Taylor, Arscott said, "never lifted a finger" to help the party.

She's referring to the usual grunt work -- manning phone banks, stuffing envelopes -- that is expected of newcomers such as Mr. Taylor, who ventured into the public arena in 1988.

The differences extended into policy-making. Mr. Taylor has been at odds with Mr. Ecker over the county executive's support for the local business community.

As Mr. Taylor views it, "Chuck just caters to the business community at the expense of residents."

One of Mr. Taylor's objections is the Ecker administration's insistence that the real property tax burden in the county be shifted so that residents pay less of a percentage, while the business community pays more.

This is at the heart of the debate over growth, and Mr. Taylor says that Mr. Ecker has never produced proof that a shift in the tax burden is a good idea.

So much for fond farewells.

The question now is how heartily local Democrats will embrace ** Mr. Taylor now that Republicans are rid of him. The immediate reception has ranged from a qualified warm to a wary cool.

James R. Moxley III, a local developer and Democratic Central Committee member, is understandably ill at ease about Mr. Taylor's party switch.

He says he still can't forget the vitriolic broadsides that Mr. Taylor launched against developers and elected officials during the combative comprehensive rezoning of the western part of the county.

Mr. Taylor, in fact, acknowledges that he may have been too "harsh" in some of his earlier attacks.

Mr. Moxley, among others, wonders whether Mr. Taylor's attempts at contrition are nothing more than a shallow attempt to improve a negative public image.

For the candidate himself, the challenge is nothing short of proving that a leopard can change its spots.

And having cast himself as the nemesis of local business leaders, Mr. Taylor now confronts a political quandary: Can he accept campaign contributions from developers without seeming like the ultimate hypocrite?

The common wisdom is that it is near impossible to win a county election without such financial backing. Mr. Taylor said he's not sure what he will do.

At the same time, he blasted Mr. Ecker for hosting a recent breakfast where tickets sold for $200 a person.

"Is Chuck selling influence?" Mr. Taylor asked. "What are people getting for $200 a head? It's not just bacon and eggs."

This metamorphosis of Mr. Taylor apparently will not take place overnight.

The new Democrat also has others who are waiting for him to prove himself.

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, for one, wants to see whether Mr. Taylor's switch is a "real conversion" that extends beyond his stance on growth to other positions dear to the Democrats.

As this political year unfolds, we'll wait to see just what kind of butterfly has been sprung from his Republican cocoon.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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