Decker vs. Haggerty: Differences abound CAMPAIGN 1994


Perhaps nowhere else in the six races for the County Council are the differences in campaigns and candidates more evident than in District C, where Republican businessman Mark Decker faces retired educator James Haggerty for the seat being vacated by council presidential candidate Theresa M. Pierno.

District C includes the town of Bel Air and its surrounding communities, and it is the most densely populated district in the county. Mr. Decker, 34, is president of Decker's Wine & Spirits in Bel Air. He has served on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners for five years, including one year as chairman.

He is young, aggressive, and in some respects traditionally Republican: He has significant financial support from the business community and nearly $28,000 in his campaign coffers at last report.

And he might have the most organized campaign in the county, short of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's.

Mr. Haggerty, 58, is a former associate dean and athletic director at Harford Community College who today manages Thomas Run Park, the adult baseball and softball complex near Churchville.

He has no experience in elective offices, has run his campaign out of his home on less than $3,500 to date and has traditionally Democratic support: He has been endorsed by three local unions and was personally asked to run by the Democratic county executive.

Both Mr. Haggerty and Mr. Decker started campaigning early last summer. Mr. Haggerty issued position statements on public education, the environment and the economy.

Mr. Decker, meanwhile, was fashioning a clever campaign, using baseball as a common theme in everything from campaign signs and literature to his more recent cable television ads.

In his Main Street office, a giant map of the county covers one wall and computer equipment dominates the room where his volunteer staff plot their door-to-door work, sign postings, telephone calls and targeted mailings.

His staff includes a computer-savvy volunteer who uses raw data from the county and state election boards to design programs that can pinpoint where Mr. Decker's strongest support is, where it is lagging and how he can get more of it.

"We've got thousands of names in the computer," said Mr. Decker, noting that they can be indexed by party, precinct, gender, age, special interests and more.

"We can see at a glance everything from where our 1,800 signs are to how many cross-over votes we'll need in any given area," said James Decker, the candidate's father. He has been handing out "trading cards" with his son's photo on the front and political statistics on the back, at public events for several months.

Decker's printing budget alone -- nearly $13,500 as of the last report Oct. 28 -- was at least three times that of any other candidate for the council.

Mr. Haggerty, on the other hand, says he's not counting on money or electronic wizardry to help elect him. But he claims to know half the county "through friends and a very big family."

His fund-raising efforts were simple, he said: "I made up a list of friends and associates and family members, and wrote them a letter asking for up to $50 for my campaign. About 30 or 40 responded, and I put up the rest of the money myself."

As of Oct. 28, he had $3,200 in income, $1,000 of it a loan to himself. "I don't want to be beholden to anyone," Mr. Haggerty said. "As a novice, I don't know what people might expect for even a small contribution." He has done selective mailings and advertising, but otherwise has relied on public appearances and a lot of neighborhood canvassing to garner votes.

"I think I've found out more about the county in the last four months than I have in nearly 30 years of living here," he said last week.

He said he thinks he will be elected by a cross-section of voters because of the variety of people he has met over the years though teaching, coaching and managing the sports complex.

Campaign styles probably distinguish the two men from one another more than their views. Each puts economic development among his top priorities and each wants to see more of the education budget shifted into hiring qualified teachers and paying them competitive salaries.

"Education really is the biggest business our county is involved with," Mr. Haggerty said at a recent candidates' forum. "For a number of years, we tried to solve the problem with money. But the greater need is for more accountability for what we spend, from [kindergarten] through community college."

Both candidates favor keeping new growth within the "development envelope," that area defined by U.S. 40 and Route 24 designated for growth in the master plan, which will be revisited by the next council during the comprehensive rezoning process.

"We must send the message to businesses that we will work with them and that Harford County is a good place to live and work," Mr. Decker said during a recent debate.

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