Carroll builders keep political endorsements under wraps


Carroll builders have endorsed three candidates for county commissioner, but they won't say who.

And only one candidate will acknowledge receiving their approval.

"We can be viewed with a jaundiced eye by the public," said Patrick Dail, a government affairs representative for the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The association announced its endorsements only to its members, he said. Candidates decide whether to make the endorsement public.

Democrat Rebecca A. Orenstein, a Westminster city councilwoman, said she received the endorsement.

The association is reluctant to announce who it supports because county residents often blame builders for rapid growth and the problems that follow, including crowded schools and traffic jams.

"I'm sure you understand how precarious an industry we're in," Mr. Dail said. The home builders offer money, voter registration lists and mailing labels to the candidates they endorse, he said. He would not say how much they plan to spend.

None of the commissioner candidates showed contributions from the association in finance reports filed Friday at the county Board of Elections for the period Aug. 29-Oct. 23. The next report is due Nov. 29.

Three Democrats and three Republicans are vying for three commissioner seats in Tuesday's election.

The Carroll County chapter of the Home Builders Association made its endorsements based on candidates' written responses questions about growth, impact fees and related issues. Candidates also spoke to builders at an August breakfast.

Association leaders voted on their endorsements the last week of September, Mr. Dail said. Candidates should have received notice in early October. The builders did not make endorsements in the commissioner race before the Sept. 13 primary.

Incumbent Commissioners Donald I. Dell, a Westminster Republican, and Elmer C. Lippy, a Manchester Democrat, said they had not received endorsement letters from the home builders.

Campaign finance records show Mr. Dell has received more money from individuals or companies connected to the development industry than other candidates.

As of last week, he had received almost $1,900 in development-related contributions of his total of almost $17,500, records show. Four years ago, when he won his first term, Mr. Dell received about $3,200 in such gifts, records show.

Mr. Lippy has received $170 from individuals or business related to development out of $9,290, records show.

Republican W. Benjamin Brown, Westminster's mayor, and Democrat Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh of Westminster, a former Carroll sheriff, said they did not receive letters from the builders, but did not expect an endorsement because they want to raise the impact fee.

The fee is charged on new home construction and is used to help pay for schools, parks and water projects needed to accommodate growth.

Mr. Sensabaugh said he wouldn't be disappointed not to receive the builders' endorsement: "It might be the kiss of death."

Mr. Brown and Mr. Sensabaugh had not received any money from builder-related individuals or companies as of last week, records show.

Republican Richard T. Yates of Eldersburg, who said he would stop residential development if roads, schools and other public facilities were not adequate, said he did not receive the endorsement.

He was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary. Records show he had not received contributions from builders as of last week.

Mr. Dail said the builders' endorsements are not given to "pro-growth candidates."

"We look for conscientious, level-headed officials who will at least listen to our input," he said.

Ms. Orenstein, top vote-getter in the Democratic primary, said she believed the home builders had endorsed her because she was running a strong campaign.

"I'm a reasonable, thoughtful candidate, and that's appealing to a wide range of people," she said.

County officials cannot discuss growth issues without including builders, but builders don't have to dominate the dialogue, she said. "All voices have to be heard."

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