In most other corners of Montgomery County, taking on the political establishment could guarantee an upstart like Larry L. Barker untold ulcers, a costly campaign and the undying enmity of his opponent's friends.
But in Laytonsville, a sleepy upcounty community where Barker hopes to be elected mayor today, 216 townspeople conduct their politics the old-fashioned way: They disdain it.
That explains why Barker, 39, has spent exactly $14.63 to unseat three-term Mayor Charles T. White, 52, and why White has not bothered to campaign for reelection. It also explains why the mayor's supporters -- there's a slew of them in town -- wish Barker luck when he has interrupted their supper to drop off one of his leaflets.
"You leave me out of it," a gruff old-timer at Layman's Stop & Shop said the other day when a visitor asked about the mayor's race. "We're all neighbors here. Don't go puttin' us on one side or the other."
Although this is the first time in recent memory that someone has formally challenged an incumbent mayor, there is nothing cataclysmic about the election in Laytonsville, a community with roots in the 18th century and a collective passion for those gentler times.
The town has no municipal building or sewer system, just one general store (Layman's), three churches (Baptist, Episcopal and Methodist) and a post office the size of a large closet (95 boxes, located at the rear of Layman's).
There are no substantive disagreements between "Mr. Barker" and "Mr. White," as the two invariably refer to one another. Both say their chief goal is preserving the small-town feel of Laytonsville in the face of encroaching development from outlanders in Olney, Gaithersburg and Damascus. If there is a difference between them, it is a fuzzy one over how to achieve that goal.
Barker, a grants administrator with the U.S. Energy Department, said he "prefers more planning. I like to massage the issues." He wants long-range studies of how Laytonsville, which nearly tripled in area recently with the annexation of 382 acres, should grow and safeguard its water supply against the nearby county dump.
White, an insurance officer with a Baltimore firm, has been somewhat less ambitious, concentrating his efforts on the development of a $1 million, 18-store shopping center on the south side of town on Rte. 108. "If there is any difference between us, it's over the concept of big government and small town," said White.
"I came through a different era," he added. "Sure, we need to study our growth and have solid planning. But our growth is more of a business proposition to me, rather than politics."
White, a Democrat whose late father, Washington Waters White, was also a longtime mayor, is solidly old Laytonsville, comfortable in the paint-splattered khakis and work shirts favored by many of the town's working men. White and his family live next door to the 1897 frame house where he was born. The mayor is proudest of being in office when the town lowered its 35-cent property tax rate to a mere 28.5 cents.
Not above a little politicking himself, White brags in a campaign flyer that the town's $29,000 budget for the coming year should enable Laytonsville to shave its tax rate even more, to 25 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Barker, a bachelor and registered independent, represents new Laytonsville. He settled in the town, which he lovingly calls "a sanctuary," four years ago. That makes him a newcomer by most of the older residents' standards. He lives on the east side of town in a 1950s brick rambler and recently resigned from the Town Council, where he served two terms, to run for mayor.
Many in Laytonsville, especially those used to having a White in office, predict White will be a shoo-in on Monday. He won easily two years ago, picking up all 19 votes cast on paper ballots at the town's volunteer fire station. A large turnout -- say, 50 votes -- probably would help Barker's chances, though.
Barker has some appeal among Laytonsville's younger set. He represents "what we need, more looking into the future," said Gary Barber, who runs the only service station in town.
Barber, who has tangled with the mayor and Town Council over the size of a sign outside his station, said the White administration occasionally "gets on my butt" over such zoning infractions as the storage of unlicensed cars in the lot next door. "Like any place, there's good and bad" aspects to the current officeholders, Barber added.
Nurseryman Pete Stadler, who has lived in the area for 25 years but just became eligible to vote after his property was annexed by Laytonsville, declined to say who he will support. But he sounded like a White backer when he praised the town government for being responsive. "When you are friends of all the people running, you're not going to find many who'll tell who they're voting for," Stadler said. "This is local politics. It's important to keep the neighborly good will going. CAPTION: Picture 1, Charles T. White . . . won easily two years ago; Picture 2, Larry L. Barker . . . spent $14.63 on mayoral bid; Map, Laytonville. By Richard Furno -- The Washington Post