Volume 14, Issue 30 ~ August 3 - August 9, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Speak Evasively and Carry a Big Sign

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

—Theodore Roosevelt, 1902.

Insofar as the crowded field of candidates for county executive and most other slots is concerned, methinks the hopefuls have read only the first two of the most repeated words of the old Bull Moose. To my way of thinking, the campaign thus far has been pretty much one of speak softly.

Speak softly. Period.

No big sticks, no clout is evident.

Too bad Teddy of Rough Riders fame isn’t running. He’d liven things up. They didn’t call him the Bull Moose for nothing.

Name Recognition

Sadly, it’s just the opposite with unsightly signs. They’re louder than ever.

Since July 15 when their presence for the primaries became legal, everywhere signs have sprouted up quicker than the Eastern Shore’s sweet corn after all the wet stuff came a month earlier.

The signs scream at passersby; they’re big, bold, bright colored. And they clutter lawns, vacant fields, businesses, trees, anywhwere that motorists can’t miss them.

It’s at such times, I’m tempted to wish I was a printer. The business and cash would roll in, but my conscious would be shattered. Who wants to litter a neighborhood?

With the field of candidates as crowded as a swarm of termites, the battle is on for name recognition. They all know they can’t win the war unless the Sept. 12 primary battle is won. There is no second chance between then and Nov. 7th’s general election.

For county executive, Republicans have a handful of contestants, one for each finger; the Democrats, two. On both sides it’s a horse race. Maybe they’re all correct; maybe the winner of the battle — maybe even the election — will be decided on name recognition. The one who puts up the most and biggest signs wins.

Big signing isn’t necessarily confined to county exec. Since I moved here three and a half decades ago, I don’t recall seeing so many signs littering our landscape. Some are miniature billboards, yet most advertise just a name.

One Republican candidate for chief of the county lists only his last name, nothing else, which prompts one to wonder if his ego is as big as a billboard and he assumes everyone will get the connection. Or is the first name omitted because he’d rather not have voters associate him with his full name and voting record?

Just about all signs big and small list a full name, though a couple have a tag line like the working people’s candidate. What it’s boiling down to is not what’s in or behind a name, but just the name itself.

Who Are These Guys?

A quiz for Republicans. Name three of your five candidates for county exec.

Who is Tom Angelis? Who is Phil Bissett, David Boschert, Gregory Nourse, or John Leopold? More important, where do they stand on Bay issues? Education? Development? What’s in their background to qualify them to be chief honcho of the county — beyond serving terms in the General Assembly, as three of the five GOP’ers have?

Of the other two, one is a Baltimore high school teacher; the other, an assistant superintendent of county schools. At least we know, or can reasonably assume, their expertise is education.

On the Democratic side: George E. Johnson IV is county sheriff, which promises a focus on police, fire, law and order, an increasing priority among many voters.

His opponent is Dennis Callahan, former mayor of Annapolis, more recently chief of recreation and parks for the county — an indication he could be more friendly to Bay boosters because his branch of government has been involved more closely in making Bay access easier to the citizenry.

Just four of all the candidates — Bissett, Callahan, Johnson and Nourse — can claim any administrative experience. Yet being county exec takes more than a platform; the winner must have a plan and the leadership to make it work.

The Meat Is Sucked Out

I’ve read the press statements from the candidates; ho hum. They’re all for Bay programs, education, limits on development, better police, fire departments, motherhood and apple pie. For the most part, their views were shielded. They were asked a question, allowed to answer it — and that was it. As with signs, it appears some think the more words the better, though many are empty words.

Press statements insulate a candidate from hard and detailed questioning. No one is there to say, Hold on. If you believe that, why did you say this? Or vote that way? While we want to know why they have the qualifications and how they have the know-how to accomplish what they promise.

With few exceptions, the statements I’ve noted from the candidates could be classified as weasel words, which reminds me again of Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1916 at St. Louis said:

One of our defects … is to use what have been called ‘weasel words.’ When a weasel sucks eggs, the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a ‘weasel word’ after another [weasel word] there is nothing left of the other.

When the field is slimmed down after the primary, I’m hoping we can have serious debate or probing interviews to get to the nitty-gritty in all the races. But by then, a big chunk of the process is missing.

The electorate must accept part of the blame if we’re satisfied with status quo and sit back and observe the battle of the signs. As more and bigger tilts the outcome, I’m sometimes tempted to vote for the candidate who has fewer and smaller. Enough said.

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