The candidates running for County Council in Montgomery's sprawling District 2 are as diverse as the upper county area they seek to represent.
On the Democratic side, voters on Sept. 11 will choose between Del. Judith C. Toth, a veteran legislator proud of her notoriety as political maverick, and Vickie York, a newcomer to politics who was tapped to run with Democratic officeholders on their election ticket.
The Republican primary features a contest betwen Nancy Dacek, longtime civic activist, and Bruce Goldensohn, former mayor of Gaithersburg elected to the county Board of Education.
"The contests are worth watching," said Del. Gene W. Counihan, a Democrat who represents the area in the General Assembly. "The candidates offer different styles and different positions and different backgrounds. Voters really have some choices here."
The district sweeps across western and northern Montgomery, taking in Potomac, Poolesville, Germantown and Clarksburg. It's a vast area -- with more than 84,000 voters -- and the issues vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. For instance, taxes are the main concern in Potomac, growth is the issue in Germantown, the county's plans to build a jail in Clarksburg preoccupy that community, and the operation of the Travilah Quarry is the major interest of residents in North Potomac. The district contains most of Montgomery's rural land and green space, and the environment is a unifying issue.
A surge in Republican voters in the district -- 32,629 Republicans, 39,204 Democrats and 12,792 independents -- plus the election of council members by geographic district give the Republicans their best chance ever to capture this seat.
And, Dacek and Goldensohn are pounding at 20 years of Democratic rule. "We have had 20 years of one-party government in this county and what one-party government has translated into is special-interest government," Dacek said during a recent debate aired by Montgomery Community Television (Channel 21).
Goldensohn said it is time for a Republican on the council, to represent those who haven't been heard and to make the government accountable.
The candidates have been crisscrossing the district -- ringing doorbells, attending forums and holding coffees -- in a furious campaign of issues and personality.
By far, the more spirited race has developed beween Toth, 52, a former civic activist elected four times to the House of Delegates, and York, 34, a real estate agent and member of the Housing Opportunities Commission.
York has criticized Toth's 16 years in Annapolis, painting her as an ineffective legislator who was isolated from her colleagues and was more interested in publicity than results.
During the televised debate, York charged that of 363 bills sponsored by Toth, only 43 were enacted.
York repeatedly reminds her audiences of the 1988 General Assembly, when Toth announced she was resigning because she got "bored" with legislative life. Toth later changed her mind and served the second half of her four-year term.
"Can we afford to take that kind of chance in representation?" York asks.
Toth readily agrees hers is not an orthodox political career. And she acknowledges that she did create quite a stir when she said she would leave Annapolis, but she said her remarks were misquoted, evidence that she doesn't pander to the press.
Moreover, she said that at no point did she stop working or did she let her constitutents down.
"I have been loyal to the 'nth' degree and have worked hard for all of 16 years," she said.
Toth said that York has her record all wrong. She said York's calculations do not reflect the bills she cosponsored or legislation that was the result of her committee work or an idea that was overtaken by an administration bill.
"Legislating is not a ballgame," Toth said, explaining that simple statistics don't tell the story of her bills on animal welfare or support for day care or protections for nursing home patients.
Besides, Toth suggested that York has little standing to be questioning her qualifications. She noted that her opponent has never run for elected office and was a Republican until switching to the Democratic Party in 1985.
Toth depicts York as the "handpicked" tool of County Executive Sidney Kramer's political machine. York was one of two newcomers asked by Kramer and the incumbent Democratic council members to join their slate -- a controversial move that angered many party regulars who felt they had been excluded and who ended up endorsing Toth at a nominating convention. "I have never been handpicked by anyone," Toth said, stressing she has shown she votes her own mind and doesn't bow to special interests or those more powerful. "I'm a populist."
Toth also is emphasizing her experience. "I know the streets, I know the citizens, I know the problems," Toth said in the recent debate with York.
York and Toth also differ on the issues. Toth supports an amendment to the County Charter that would hold increases in the property tax rate to inflation; York is opposed.
York said that an excise tax on new development would adversely affect first-time homebuyers because developers would pass on the cost. But Toth sees such a tax as inevitable.
"Basically, she has been an advocate for growth in the area . . . . Her positions have been pro-business and pro-development," Toth said.
But York counters that the upper county area has experienced a lot of growth, and she said her efforts on a variety of boards has been to work for the services and facilities such as roads and schools and libraries that make for a good quality of life.
York said her work during the past nine years on the Up-County Citizens Advisory Board, the City of Gaithersburg Landlord Tenant Affairs and the Germantown Citizens Association made her a natural choice to be asked to run for the council.
"Selling homes, mostly to first-time buyers, has taught me about the district and its needs," she said.
The two also have clashed on the abortion issue, with Toth objecting to York's introduction of the issue into the debate.
The council has nothing to do with abortion, Toth said, charging that York, a supporter of abortion rights, has mischaracterized her position.
"I don't believe in total choice or total restrictions," said Toth. Toth has opposed a proposed constitutional amendment to ban abortion but sponsored a bill requiring parental consent, and she has supported restrictions on Medicaid funding of abortion.
York defended her use of the abortion issue in the campaign, saying the council does meet as a Board of Health and makes decisions on funding of health services.
Both candidates oppose county plans to build an incinerator in Dickerson, questioning the cost and the effect on the environment. York and Toth agree that recyling should be stepped up.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a more genial contest is going on between Dacek and Goldensohn.
Dacek, 56, was the first to enter the race, a move she said came only after Goldensohn assured her that he would not run for the seat.
Dacek laments that she would rather be spending her money to beat the Democrats than in a primary race against Goldensohn.
Goldensohn, 47, said there is much he wants to accomplish on the council and that his responsibilities on the school board as well as his job with TRW in Northern Virginia prevented him from the more ardurous task of running at-large -- a move he was encouraged to take by Republicans who believe he has good name recognition.
Goldensohn also said that a GOP primary will be helpful to the victor because it gives the candidates more exposure.
Dacek and Goldensohn differ on several issues. Dacek favors the referendum to tie the property tax to inflation, while Goldensohn said it will tie the hands of elected officials.
Dacek is strident in her opposition to the proposal for a light-rail trolley between Silver Spring and Bethesda. "No trolley folly," she said. Goldensohn said that he has reservations about the trolley but that he didn't want to risk the $70 million the state is willing to spend on the project.
Dacek, former head of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs who ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 1982, has criticized Goldensohn for waffling on such issues as the incinerator or a quarry in Boyds.
"It's like fighting a phantom," she complained during the televised debate, saying she just doesn't know where he stands. Dacek has been a member of the Charter Review Committee and was active in the Montgomery County Civic Federation.
Goldensohn, mayor of Gaithersburg until 1986 when he was elected to the school board, admitted he has changed his mind.
"I don't have all the answers," he said explaining that as he does additional research and talks to more people he learns things he is willing to change his mind.
Dacek is making taxes and county spending a theme of her campaign, saying the council needs to eliminate waste and duplication. She has criticized Goldensohn and other members of the school board for agreeing to big salary boosts for teachers.
Goldensohn counters that Montgomery County residents demand quality services and that one thing he won't compromise on are the schools and children.