Del. Joseph Bartenfelder liked the reaction he got from 40-year Parkville resident Daniel Kuchta during a round of neighborhood campaigning.
"You're Joe Bartenfelder!" the retiree said. "I see your name all around here." As well he might, since Mr. Bartenfelder is running for Baltimore County's 6th District County Council seat against incumbent Republican William A. Howard IV. Asked if he would vote for the challenger, Mr. Kuchta, 71, quickly replied, "No problem."
"Who is your county councilman now?" Mr. Bartenfelder said.
"I don't know," Mr. Kuchta said. "But I know who he's gonna be."
Neither Mr. Kuchta nor other residents near Parkville Middle School that October day mentioned the campaign issue that has received the most publicity in the district -- whether Mr. Howard lives in Baltimore County or in Harford County and whether Mr. Bartenfelder's hiring of a private detective to find out was proper. People talk little about the issue, both candidates said.
At an Oct. 6 candidates night in Perry Hall, Mr. Howard blasted Mr. Bartenfelder as the man "who hired a private detective to trail my wife and videotape my kids."
But even he said, "I want this campaign to be about what I've done in four years."
In that regard, he pointed to his support of County Executive Roger B. Hayden's budget cuts, zoning votes that helped preserve open spaces in Cromwell and Long Green valleys and the precedent-setting 1992 budget deal with Mr. Hayden in which the council, under his chairmanship, helped bolster the sagging police and fire departments by trading potential budget cuts for extra public safety positions.
Now, he said, he's a seasoned official, not the 1990 novice who beat incumbent Democrat William R. Evans for the northeastern county seat. "There's a big difference in people's minds between someone who is 28 and single and one who is 32 and a married father and businessman," he said. "I've been chairman twice."
A Baltimore native, Mr. Howard grew up in Parkville and graduated from Overlea High School and Towson State University -- also Mr. Bartenfelder's alma mater.
Despite four years in office, the Republican may be facing an uphill battle in the Nov. 8 general election. He acknowledged that Mr. Bartenfelder, who won 72 percent of the vote in a four-way Democratic primary election Sept. 13, has greater name recognition. Even in the Republican tide in 1990 that resulted in Mr. Howard's election, Mr. Bartenfelder got 14,633 votes, second among three delegates elected.
The lack of a primary opponent this year didn't help Mr. Howard's name recognition, although he hopes that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, popular among the district's conservative Democrats, will give him a boost. "I believe it will be close," he said.
Stung by criticism for hiring the detective, Mr. Bartenfelder, 37, has backed away from the residency issue he once thought would devastate his opponent. He has reverted to his natural strengths as a veteran legislator with deep roots in the community. He attended Calvert Hall College before Towson State, has worked along with his extended family as a farmer, was chairman of the county House delegation in 1987 and ran for Congress in 1988.
"I think Joe's doing the right thing," state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, an ally, said about Mr. Bartenfelder's sudden shyness in pursuing the residency issue. "People want to hear what Joe Bartenfelder wants to do," not negative bashing.
If elected, Mr. Bartenfelder said he wants to better inform residents about the quadrennial comprehensive rezoning process to help them find out in advance how land will be used. He sees his experience as a three-term delegate as helpful in forging alliances with legislators that could mean more state money, such as for school construction, returning to the county.
He charged that Mr. Howard hasn't attended community meetings, citing a complaint by Thomas Seymour of Fullerton who is trying to block construction of 105 townhouses on 26 acres near his Babikow Road home. Mr. Seymour said Mr. Howard ignored two invitations to community meetings. "I did miss that," Mr. Howard conceded, but said he has attended many community meetings that Mr. Bartenfelder didn't.
Bartenfelder supporters have questioned why he didn't stick to his program, instead of hiring a detective to monitor the Harford County home of Mr. Howard's wife to prove his contention that the Republican is not entitled to his council seat. County law requires members to live in their districts.
Mr. Howard, who rents a townhouse in Carney, said he has two residences and stays at both. His real estate business interests in Baltimore County are important, not how many nights he may spend in Abingdon, he said.
Jacqueline Watts, a longtime Perry Hall resident who listened to the candidates at the forum, expressed an opinion typical of many concerning Mr. Bartenfelder's accusation against Mr. Howard. "I think he should live in the district," she said. "It should be checked out, but maybe it wasn't the best way to do it."