Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer and Democratic challenger Neal Potter sparred last night over development, taxes and who is best equipped to lead the county during a polite but pointed debate.

Pitted against each other in an increasingly competitive Sept. 11 Democratic primary, Kramer and Potter, a 20-year veteran of the County Council, used their first and only televised debate to sound themes standard to their campaigns.

Kramer depicted the county as a great place to live and work, claiming credit for sound and sensible management of its money and services. He warned, though, that Montgomery faces an uncertain future because of an economic slowdown and questioned Potter's ability to handle the executive's job.

"We can't afford the luxury of someone learning on the job," said Kramer.

Potter countered that he sees the job of the county executive as providing leadership and not simply administering departments. He said he got into the race because of the issues of overdevelopment, excessive taxes and bossism in government and added, "I am well equipped to deal with the issues."

Potter said Kramer's administration is fostering and promoting development when it should be slowed down. Kramer said the growth in the county is the result of policies put in place by county councils Potter served on.

Kramer appeared the more comfortable as he stood in front of the cameras in the Rockville studios of Montgomery Community Television, which held the debate in conjunction with the League of Women Voters. He repeatedly turned to Potter, trying to put him on the spot with questions about things such as Potter's support for a parking tax and his opposition to the Office of Economic Development.

Potter was apparently unruffled by Kramer's comments, explaining the intricacies of his positions. And he unleashed some attacks of his own, criticizing the dominance of developer contributions in Kramer's campaign and suggesting that Kramer's extensive real estate holdings pose a conflict of interest for the executive.

Potter noted that the executive makes recommendations on road improvements and improvement of services, decisions that could affect the value of property he owns.

Kramer, a millionaire, dismissed his developer contributions as a non-issue, saying that developers and business leaders give to his campaign because they think he is best suited for the job. He said his campaign carefully complies with all disclosure laws and that no one who ever contributed to him asked for or received any special favors.

Kramer said he has been "very scrupulous, very careful, very cautious" with his real estate holdings to ensure there have been no conflicts, and he challenged Potter to show him where there has been a problem.

Potter and Kramer, who were colleagues on the County Council at the start of their political careers two decades ago, seemingly went out of their way to be polite and pleasant to each other. Kramer praised Potter as a good council member. They called each other by first name and they shook hands.

This contrasted with their last encounter at the cable station's studios earlier this month, during which they got into a heated exchange as they waited for the taping of a news program to begin.

The debate will be rebroadcast on Montgomery Cable Channel 21 at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Sept. 9.