Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer charged his Democratic challenger Neal Potter yesterday with "a flip-flop, and then another flop-flip" on the issue of the Silver Spring-Bethesda trolley. He additionally questioned whether the veteran council member has the temperament to lead the county.

Kramer, facing an increasingly competitive Sept. 11 primary contest, called a news conference to describe Potter's "pattern of inconsistency and indecisiveness."

Although he is favored to win a second term, Kramer has been placed on the defensive by Potter's criticism of his record on growth and the reporting of an incident last week in which it was alleged he told Potter he would "kick" his posterior in the election.

Kramer has denied the remark and yesterday called the matter a subterfuge to divert dialogue from the issue of whether Potter has the ability or temperament to be executive.

"I seem to be considerably more calm and collected than he is at the moment," Potter retorted.

At yesterday's news conference in his Silver Spring headquarters, Kramer charged that Potter "wants to have it both ways."

Potter voted last year to support the use of state funds for construction of a light rail line from Silver Spring to Bethesda as a way to relieve traffic congestion. Two weeks ago, Potter announced that he favored postponing construction of the trolley for 10 years and using the state funds for other transportation improvements.

"Many observers have concluded that Mr. Potter's flip-flop on the trolley was motivated by political consideration," Kramer said, noting that Potter's announcement was greeted by an immediate endorsement of his candidacy by trolley foes.

It doesn't end there, Kramer said. Potter, in a debate at the Jewish Community Center last week, said he still wanted the trolley as a "model" of light rail.

"Where does Mr. Potter stand? Why has he flip-flopped, and then flop-flipped?" Kramer asked.

"Well, the fact is I haven't changed at all," said Potter, who explained that a press statement on his trolley position was "bungled."

Potter said that he will continue to support building a trolley if it is the only way the county can get state money for its traffic woes. But, he said, he doesn't think the trolley is needed immediately -- a position reflected in minutes of last year's council discussions.

Potter said he voted for the trolley as a way to preserve the route as a right of way. He said he has told opponents of the project that he would not stand in its way if the state came up with money to build it.

Also yesterday, Kramer read a letter from former county executive Charles W. Gilchrist praising Kramer for the job he has done as executive.

Gilchrist, who retired from politics to join the ministry, said yesterday he doesn't want to be actively involved in the campaign but that he wanted to let Kramer know "I think he has done an excellent job."

Gilchrist's support of Kramer in the 1986 race was seen as a major factor in his victory. Gilchrist said he didn't want to speculate on what kind of executive Potter would be. "I just don't see any reason to change" executives, Gilchrist said.