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Veteran councilmen vie for mayor's seat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hampstead will have a new mayor and at least one new councilman after its May 13 town election, but the government will retain a similar feel as all of the five candidates running have served the town in public capacities over the last four years.

The mayoral race pits two councilmen, Haven Shoemaker and Wayne Thomas, in a battle to replace two-term incumbent Christopher M. Nevin.

But Nevin hopes not to go far. He is seeking one of two council seats in a race against incumbent Scott Antonelli and Myron Diehl, a member of the town's Board of Zoning Appeals who ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago.

The races feature few divisive issues, with all candidates agreeing that the town must continue its legacy of fiscal prudence while gussying up Main Street, creating more recreational space and adding a steadier police presence. Most say they hope to keep the town's government headed in the direction it has followed for the past decade.

In the mayoral contest, Shoemaker and Thomas have both praised the Town Council's work of recent years, saying they want to help maintain the status quo. But they disagree on who deserves more credit for the town's successes, and both like to point out that they voted differently on several key issues.

Thomas, 52, ran for mayor in 1999 but lost to Nevin in a contentious race. He is the dean of the council, having served 10 years and says he deserves more credit than he's gotten for the town government's emergence from its backward-thinking days of the early 1990s.

"Sure, things got better after Chris Nevin and those other guys were elected in 1995, but if I hadn't already been there, they would not have had the votes to change things," Thomas said.

He says that he and Shoemaker share many ideas but that he has a greater history of acting on those ideas and learning the important details of policies and codes in the town of about 6,000. He noted the town's Main Street revitalization efforts as an example.

"Haven's in favor of revitalization, but I actually went out and worked on the plan," Thomas said. "When you look at my record, I think you see examples of action."

Thomas led the committee that developed the revitalization plan, which includes parks, walking and bike trails and cosmetic improvements to streets, among other features. He also noted that he heads the town's business association.

Shoemaker has criticized Thomas for two votes -- one against moving the town's police station to a refurbished building on Main Street and another against the compensation package the council negotiated with Wal-Mart when the town agreed to extend water service to the business, which opened three years ago just beyond the northern border of town.

Thomas defended both decisions, saying that the $1.2 million price tag for the police station seemed hefty for a small town and that Hampstead should not have extended water service to Wal-Mart without annexing the business so the town could receive a tax boost.

"I think if you look at those decisions and all the others over the last 10 years, you'll see that everything I've done has been about making the town better," he said.

Preserving status quo

Shoemaker, 38, has served on the council for six years and was the leading vote-getter in the 2001 election. He has staked his candidacy on preserving the status quo and on his outgoing personality.

"All the ceremonial stuff and talking to clubs and what not, I really like to do," he said.

Shoemaker runs a law practice on Main Street and has told residents he would be available to them day and night.

"I'm here all the time, and I think that's important," he said.

Thomas, who works outside of town, said the 24/7 slogan is little more than a political ploy, because on an average day, Shoemaker spends hours in court or in client meetings.

The two share similar policy ideas, however. Shoemaker says the town must make its Main Street more attractive and continue lobbying state legislators to approve money for a long-planned Route 30 bypass of Hampstead. He also says the town must maintain its tight fiscal policies, which have kept the property tax rate, now 20 cents per $100 of assessed value, among the lowest of Carroll's municipalities.

"I think Hampstead runs pretty well with a limited amount of waste in the budget," Shoemaker said. "I think our residents get pretty good bang for the buck. That's the feedback I've been getting."

Shoemaker and Nevin are running on a ticket together, although the mayor acknowledges that Shoemaker has been doing the great majority of the stumping.

"I've always joked that he's the man who would be mayor, and he's really into it," Nevin said.

Nevin was engrossed in the job in 1995 when he led a reform slate to a sweeping election defeat of the old guard in town government. He and the council quickly revamped the town's growth policies and water system, showing a professional style that had been lacking, according to many longtime residents.

But the 44-year-old real estate banker said that between his job and four children, he no longer has time to be mayor.

'I want to stay involved'

"I want to stay involved and being a councilman is just about right for my schedule," he said.

Nevin said his experience dealing with the whole spectrum of town issues makes him a good person to help the council through the tight budget times expected during the next few years.

During his latest term, Nevin guided the town through difficult negotiations with the county to obtain control of the old Hampstead Elementary School, which town leaders see as the centerpiece of revitalization efforts.

He also said he established contacts in the State Highway Administration that would be helpful during continued lobbying for the bypass.

Antonelli, 42, is another candidate who says he does not advocate major changes in the direction of government. "There have been a lot of changes over the last 10 years and I want to keep the momentum going," said the mortgage salesman, who is seeking a second term.

Antonelli said that he's most interested in helping the town design state-of-the-art parks for its residents, something the council is trying to do on a 16-acre parcel downtown.

"I've worked in landscaping so I bring some useful knowledge that I've obtained over the years," Antonelli said.

He added that he would like to bolster the town police force so at least one officer can be on duty at all hours.

"We have a great atmosphere in this town, and we need to make sure we keep it that way," he said.

Diehl, 52, said he's running for council again because he's worried about the town budget. "I'd like to see where we can make cuts so we can actually pay our employees better," the engineer said.

He said he also wants to see town streets less crowded and make the downtown more pedestrian-friendly.

"I just threw my hat in there, because I think I can help out," Diehl said.

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