Mud covers candidates for Annapolis' 7th Ward Challenger attacks DeGraff's record


For eight years, Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff has made sure potholes were filled, streets swept and red tape slashed for her neighbors in Annapolis' 7th Ward, a mostly residential district on the southeast side of Back Creek.

All a resident has to do is ask, say supporters of the Republican incumbent.

But what her supporters claim is her greatest strength, her Democratic opponent in the Nov. 2 election is casting as her primary weakness.

"She's the answering machine candidate," said Richard L. Staisloff, a financial analyst for the Maryland Higher Education Commission and former legislative aide at the Maryland General Assembly. "People want more contact with the people on the City Council and not just every four years when it's re-election time."

In an otherwise low-key election, the race for the Ward 7 seat has cut a high profile as the candidates have coated each other with mud.

He has accused her of misusing her council position to pull an interview between himself and former mayor Dennis Callahan off cable television, of dodging political debates and accepting campaign contributions from a trash-hauling firm at the same time she has proposed hiring a private company to collect city trash.

She noted that such campaign contributions to council members from businesses are common and not illegal. She also said that Mr. Staisloff's invitation to debate reached newspaper offices before it reached her and dismissed it as "cheap grand-standing."

She said she objected to the cable interview because it was political advertisement on a public access channel.

Mr. Staisloff, 29, of Georgetown East, said Ms. DeGraff has become too comfortable with her role as alderman, reacting to problems only after residents complain.

"There are two ways of looking at government: you can wait at home until you get 10 to 15 calls and then decide there is a problem, or you can get out in the community and fix it before it becomes a serious problem," he said.

Hammering away on that theme during his door-to-door campaign, Mr. Staisloff believes he has cut into Ms. DeGraff's support.

Anne Snuggs, a resident in Mariner's Landing, agrees. She said she was perfectly happy with Ms. DeGraff, 35, until Mr. Staisloff came to her door and laid out his plans to get involved in the ward through town meetings, the civic associations and an umbrella association that would draw the ward's disparate community groups together.

"It was the frequency that he wants to get out to the residents," said Ms. Snuggs, who is active with the Mariners Landing and Mariners Point civic associations. "It occurred to me that really is lacking now."

But supporters of Ms. DeGraff, a resident of Windwhisper Lane, say she is responsive and tireless.

When the Greenacres Improvement Association wanted silt-clogged boating channels through Back Creek reopened in 1988, Ms. DeGraff discovered that money the City Council had set aside for dredging had been lost in the bureaucracy and fought to put the project back on track, said Kathy Davis, a resident for 15 years. "With all the help she's been, why should we want to change?" Mrs. Davis asked.

Other supporters talk about her help securing a traffic light at Tyler and Bay Ridge avenues, placing a dead end sign at Janice and Warren drives and helping Mariner's Landing residents win city approval to build privacy fences in their yards.

James "Buster" Marshall, a partner in Quiet Waters Florist, said Ms. DeGraff saved his business last year. When the city Department of Planning and Zoning cited him for operating a produce stand inappropriately outside his store on Hillsmere Drive, Mr. Marshall complained that his company was being singled out because it competes with a nearby grocery store and is minority owned.

Ms. DeGraff, noting that other produce stands operated freely throughout the city, agreed with Mr. Marshall and, along with Alderman Carl O. Snowden, pushed through a new law legalizing Mr. Marshall's stand.

Ms. DeGraff, who is director of pre-trial services at the county Detention Center on Jennifer Road, also has a citywide constituency of business people, said Jan Hardesty, owner of The Middleton Tavern in the downtown historic district.

The alderman "sees the big picture and sees that the downtown impacts everyone," she said.

Last winter, after the restaurant's efforts to expand its kitchen stalled in a costly legal fight with the city, Mrs. Hardesty said. Ms. DeGraff pushed through new legislation last spring to make it easier to make minor improvements to property.

"Unlike my opponent, I don't speak in broad, fuzzy concepts," Ms. DeGraff said. "I just fix things or know how to get them fixed. Constituent service -- that's my strong suit."

Mr. Staisloff said he does not believe that is enough, citing crime and congestion along Forest Drive as problems that need to be addressed.

He and his agenda have the support of Democratic political figures like Mayor Al Hopkins, County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb and state Delegate Mike Busch. He also has the endorsements of three of the city's four employee unions and the Black Political Forum.

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