One of the organizers of last week's candidates forum at Leisure World looked out over the crowd gathered in the clubhouse auditorium and fretted about the low turnout.
Robert Kemelhor, president of the community's Democratic club, worried that the weather was too nice, that people were too busy, that the voters were too apathetic.
Yet, two hours later at the close of the session, Republican County Council candidate Carol Wallace complimented the 90 people who made up the audience.
"I don't know how you sat there and listened to us go on and on," Wallace said, " . . . you have have been one of the best audiences and one of the largest."
Welcome to the 1990 election season -- the campaigning has started, but few are listening.
"You know I really don't think that people start to focus until the last minute, after the summer," said council member Michael L. Subin, echoing an opinion shared by other candidates.
Nonetheless, Subin and others running for county office have no choice but to turn out for the seemingly endless forums, coffees and candidates nights that are at the heart of running for office.
Consider that just hours after the Leisure World forum ended, the candidates faced another two hours of questions and politicking at the council office building in Rockville.
Growth, taxes, traffic, education and neighborhoods tend to dominate the forums for candidates for executive and County Council. Organized by a nonpartisan coalition of civic and government groups, the forums have been held throughout the county. There is one more set for 7:30 Monday night in Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
"The run-of-the-mill person isn't paying any attention yet," said Republican council candidate George E. Sauer.
The importance of the forums at this point, Sauer argued, is that "the people who follow politics from day to day are out there, paying attention to what the candidates -- particularly the Democratic incumbents -- say."
So, when council member Michael L. Gudis talks about wanting to come up with some way to fairly tax development, or council member Isiah Leggett expresses doubts about plans for a new incinerator or County Executive Sidney Kramer says that senior health care needs are the biggest problem facing the elderly -- there is someone taking note.
Statements and positions made today promise to become the heart of tomorrow's contest.
In addition, the organizers of the forums have produced a guide to the elections by requiring the candidates to fill out questionnaires that detail their stances on a variety of issues.
Hence, one learns that on 20 issues ranging from preservation of neigbhorhoods to ethics in government, Kramer and his Republican opponent Albert Ceccone agree on only three matters -- they favor increasing taxes other than those on property to pay for more government services, they want to increase spending to enforce environmental regulations and they would use non-polluting fuels to operate public transportation.
The questionnaires show that council member Bruce T. Adams's highest priority "is to create a positive environment to bring people together to solve problems and build a stronger community. Republican council candidate John F. Thomas wants to eliminate red tape in county government, and Robin Ficker, a Republican running for County Council, thinks much of the county's problems result because it is not getting a fair share of state money.
"Everyone here," said candidate Thomas in a sweep of his arm to include all the county candidates, "is sincere about wanting a better Montgomery County . . . but we are not going to agree on all the issues."
Perhaps, though, Democratic member Rose Crenca had the best observation on the sayings and doings of both her opponents and running mates. "All this is election-year rhetoric," Crenca told the Leisure World audience.
Still, one woman who sat through the session told a reporter, "I'm glad I came . . . it will help when I have to vote."Ex-Delegate Wants to Return
Luiz Simmons, a lawyer who served in the House of Delegates from 1978 to 1982, has decided to seek his old seat -- the delegate spot in District 17 that is opening up with Del. Mary H. Boergers's decision to challenge Sen. S. Frank Shore.
Simmons, 41, of Rockville, left the General Assembly when he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for county executive. Simmons that same year switched his party affiliation to Democratic.
"It's a cliche, I know, but the fact is I didn't leave the party, the party left me," said Simmons, explaining that as a progressive he was increasingly at odds with his party.
Simmons developed a reputation as a consumer activist in his years in the house and said he would like to return to Annapolis to continue that work. Simmons said he believes that the state's automobile insurance industry is largely unregulated and that there needs to be a reform in the relationship of lobbyists and legislators.
He said the biggest issue in the Rockville-Gaithersburg area is abortion, a topic sure to dominate the Boergers and Shore match-up in the Democratic primary.
Shore is a staunch opponent of abortion and was one of the 16 senators who was involved in the filibuster of the last General Assembly. Boergers is for abortion rights.
"It's not a made-up issue . . . it's real. People care about this issue," said Simmons, who has gone door to door in the district. Simmons also favors abortion rights.
Democratic incumbents Michael Gordon and Jennie M. Forehand are seeking reelection while other Democratic hopefuls include Kumar Barve, Peter Hartogensis, Susan Hoffmann and Robert A. Jacques.
Add 2 to District 15 Race
Two more Democrats have entered the crowded field for House of Delegates in District 15.
Joseph P. Foley, 40, president of a government and public affairs firm, entered the race, saying, "It's time we had strong leadership and innovative ideas to help . . . solve county and state problems through positive action in Annapolis." He said he is uniquely qualified, having lived in the county for 14 years, having worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide and now running his own firm.
"Preserving our environment in this beautiful corner of Maryland, solving our complex transportation problems and enhancing our unique quality of life will be my major priorities," said Foley. He also pointed to the need to solve problems caused by operation of the Travilah quarry.
Dave Segal, 33, chose the site of the county's new landfill in Dickerson for his entry into the District 15 race. "The key issues are growth and the environment, taxes and challenging politics as usual in the county," Segal said. "In the aftermath of Earth Day, there will be claims from many that they are environmentalists. This will make it even more necessary for concerned citizens to really quality the record of commitment by the candidates."
Segal pointed to his work as an activist for the environmental, energy conservation and civic rights issues. Segal, a telemarketing specialist, said he is opposed to the county plans for a trash-to-energy incinerator and that Montgomery should be recycling more.
Del. Gene W. Counihan, a Democrat, and Del. Jean W. Roesser, a Republican, are both seeking reelection, and the other incumbent, Democrat Judith C. Toth, is running for County Council.
Segal and Foley, both making their first run for political office, face a crowded field Sept. 11. Other Democrats include Fernando Bren, Wayne E. Busbice, Rosemary Glynn, Sally P. McGarry and Stuart Schooler.