After months of elaborate planning for this fall's Montgomery County Council race, Republican and Democratic leaders have been forced to abruptly abandon their strategies as the tax-cutting charter referendum known as TRIM suddenly emerged as the dominant campaign issue.
The intricately planned stands on housing, transportation and growth are seldom referred to; the performance of the all-Democratic council has almost ceased to be an issue. Now party leaders are relying solely on their contrasting partisan platforms on TRIM to sweep their candidates into office.
The reasons for TRIM's preeminence as a campaign issue, however, go beyond the simple fact that tax-cutting measures are the latest political vogue.
If the ballot proposal is passed, it will not only cut back the county's tax rate to $2.25 per $100 of assessed valuation, it will also make the passage of tax increases extremely difficult: six of seven County Council members would be needed to approve such tax increases or to impose any new local tax.
This latter provision means that election of two TRIM proponents could effectively block the imposition of any tax rate increase for at least two years.
The TRIM proposal has also introduced a new element of confusion in the Montgomery political scene, causing some internal rifts in both the Republican and Democratic camps.
The Republican Party has endorsed TRIM, even though three of its council candidates and its executive nominee oppose the charter amendment TRIM has to rigid. The Democratic party has opposed it, although one of its council candidates is an officer in the Taxpayers League, which sponsored TRIM.
The overriding popularity of the issue of reducing government waste and lowering taxes has forced all the council candidates to define themselves in terms of TRIM.
Democrats Neal Potter, Ruth Spector, Esther Gelman, Mike Gudis, Elizabeth Scull and Scott Fosler oppose TRIM, while candidate Rose Crenca backs it. Republicans Jackie Simon, Barbara Bailey and Taft Holland oppose TRIM, while Bob Brennan, Richard L. Bogley Jr., Barrie Ciliberti and Malcolm Lawree support it.
"We are hoping that anti-TRIM sentiment will bring us a top-to-bottom Democratic victory when people realize that TRIM is a fraud perpetrated by those wrapped in privilege," said Democrat Gelman.
But Republican Brennan reminds voters on the stump that the GOP is the party of "fiscal responsibility." "Don't forget after this all-Democratic council gave us a 33 cent property tax increase the year after they were elected."
These overall statements of party positions, however, have only limited impact since more than one political worker has said that "It's every candidate for himself."
Among the most interesting of the council contests is the at-large race for two council seats, which has matched Democrats Crenca and Fosler against Republicans Lawrence and Holland.
Crenca, an officer in the Taxpayers' League, has soft-pedaled her stand in favor of TRIM, playing it up or down depending on her audiences. Her position has sent some Democratic regulars into the camp of Holland, a former White House staffer and one of two blacks in the race.
Lawrence, the most conservative of all council candidates, has repeatedly touted himself as the first candidate to back TRIM. He has been active in the local War-On-Narcotics League and Parents Who Care, which has complained about "pronography" in textbooks and sex education in the schools.
Fosler, a professional consultant in "cost-effective management" of state and local governments, chaired the county's Task Force on Real Property Assessment Practices which recommended sweeping reforms to make assessments more equitable.
Perhaps the toughest race involved District 1 incumbent Democrat Potter, who is being challenged by Simon, a former Democrat. Simon, who has built up a large following through her activities in the Chamber of Commerce, United Way and the American Civil Liberties Union, has hammered away at Potters tax policies and his style on the council.
A realtor with wide business backing, Simon contends that Potter as a two-term council member has "studied things to death, often resulting in costly delays" and "authored or supported every tax increase of the last eight years."
Potter, an economist, whose "controlled growth" policies and tax philosophies have frustrated the business community, contends that his tax positions are "not tax increases."
"They are proposals for revenue sources which have had the principal effect of reducing property taxes," he said.
The District 2 race has pitted the wealthiest candidate Brennan, president of Columbia Homes and former planning commissioner, against Spector, a social worker and legislative aide to Gilchrist and probably the most liberal candidate in the race.
Neither had primary contests, but Brennan has poured more than $13,000 into radio and newspaper advertising for the last two weeks of the campaign.
In District 3, incumbent Gelman is attempting to keep her seat against Bogley whom she defeated handily in 1974. Although her unpredictability during her term has made her unpopular with some voters. Gelman's victory was believed to be cinced when a tenants movement against her never materialized in the primary. Bogley was hospitalized during most of October following a heart attack and now campaigns from his home.
The race declared the biggest tossup has matched Democrat Gudis agaisnt Republican Ciliberti in District 4. Gudis, an administrative partner in a financial management firm, defeated incumbent Jane Ann Moore in the primary, causing some of her supporters to defect to Ciliberti, a professor at Bowie State College and an owner of Town and County School in Reston.
Gudis poured $10,500 of his own money into his primary race, and received more than $3,000 in cash and in-kind services from property managers and owners who wanted to defeat Moore, a staunch proponent of rent controls.
In District 5, two-term incumbent and Council President Scull, the millionaire sister of Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and traditionally the top Democratic vote-getter, is being challenged by Republican Bailey, a black educational consultant who won the primary on $85. There is little philosophical difference between Bailey, a tenant advocate formerly on the Landlord Tenant Commission and founder of the Summit Hill (now Broadmoor) Tenants Association, and Scull, a liberal supporter of social legislation.