Harford contests contrast in styles

The Baltimore Sun

On the way to the polls for tomorrow's elections, candidates in one Harford County town have traversed the high road while those in another community have slogged through the mud.

In Bel Air, the candidates vying for seats on the Board of Town Commissioners have posted campaign signs side by side. They've had jovial exchanges when bumping into each other while campaigning door-to-door. And they couldn't say enough complimentary things about one another at a recent forum.

"We are just harmonious here," said James M. Decker, one of seven candidates competing for three seats on the five-member commission.

It has been a different story in Aberdeen.

Candidates have lobbed accusations of voter fraud, malfeasance and other wrongdoings. A flurry of anonymous fliers carrying personal attacks against candidates has landed in residents' mailboxes. Campaign signs have been defaced and stolen.

And the election faced postponement when a candidate who had been ruled ineligible took his residency dispute to court.

"It has gotten ugly and very nasty," said Michael E. Bennett, one of two candidates challenging Aberdeen Mayor S. Fred Simmons.

City Council member David Yensan, the target of negative messages carried around town in truck beds, said his campaign signs have been disappearing.

"I'm not getting in the gutter with those folks," said Yensan, one of 10 people in the council race. "I have lots of good things to talk about Aberdeen. What bothers me is that some people believe the garbage."

Vandals defaced a billboard advertising Simmons' insurance business, and the mayor said vehicles have stopped outside his home throughout the night with horns blaring.

Meanwhile in Bel Air, the campaign mood has bordered on blissful.

"One of my competitors just helped me with a mailing," Decker said.

Some of the candidates say one factor in the tone of the campaign season in the county seat is that there is plenty of common ground among them.

"Maybe it's because we are a small, close-knit community," said candidate John W. Janowich. "We didn't have a contentious ballot battle. We are all working for the same objectives. Our kids go to the same schools, and we see each other frequently.

"I bought two cars from Mayor [Terence O.] Hanley when he was in that business." Hanley, who now is a mortgage broker, is seeking a second term.

Richard R. Davis, who is making his first attempt to win a four-year term, said, "All the candidates are working together, and none of us are out to hammer anybody."

Edward Hopkins III, also running his first campaign, said the makeup of the two communities is similar but that the issues vary widely.

"People are passionate about what they believe and, sometimes, that rises to an intensity that spills over into a campaign," Hopkins said. "But if you let anger and frustration in, you defeat the whole purpose of what should be a great experience."

Bel Air has no divisive issues, said Robert J. Reier, who was appointed to the commission last year to fill a vacated seat and hopes to be elected to continue.

"There are a few more days left and anything can happen, but I don't expect anything negative," said Reier, a chiropractor with a practice in town.

Hopkins added, "We have all got a unified front here and we respect each other. Certainly, I want to win, but if not, I am certain all of us have the best interests of the town at heart."

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