An item in Thursday's Maryland Weekly incorrectly said that Ralph G. Neas was the only Democrat who had decided to run against Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.). Deborah A. Vollmer, of Chevy Chase, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to run against Morella last year, has declared she will again seek the nomination in 2000. This week, Neas abandoned plans to run. (Published 09/25/1999)

As Gov. Parris N. Glendening nears a decision on whether to build the intercounty connector across suburban Maryland, Montgomery County government remains as divided as ever on the subject.

Last week, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan urged Glendening (D) in a letter to move ahead with a task force's recommendation to build a parkway-style connecting road that would link Interstate 270 with Interstate 95 north of the Capital Beltway. Duncan (D) took that step after hearing from business leaders and members of the county's State House delegation that the governor was leaning toward killing the road in the coming weeks.

News of the connector's possible demise heartened environmentalists, who say the road would never pass federal environmental review, as well as a Montgomery County Council that opposes construction of what could be a $1.1 billion highway project. Days after Duncan wrote his note to Glendening, the council dashed off one of its own.

The council's letter urged the governor to stop buying land that could be used for the 20-mile road and to endorse an $800 million alternative that includes new trolley lines, intersection improvements and minor road construction.

Council sources say a draft of the governor's transportation budget includes $6 million to finish planning and engineering work on a new rail line linking Bethesda and Silver Spring--a project opposed by Duncan. Most of the council's favored package was outlined recently by the Montgomery County planning staff as its recommendation for alleviating mounting east-west traffic congestion.

"Within the next month we will be reviewing and may be updating this list with more projects," a council majority wrote the governor. "By programming these projects and instituting stronger policies to slow growth in vehicle miles traveled, we will make real progress tackling our transportation problems."

Glendening is expected to make a decision on the connector in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, state transportation officials will begin shopping around a draft of their capital budget, including a stop next week in Montgomery.

Van Hollen Nixes Race

So you're an up-and-coming Democrat in Montgomery County, thinking of taking on Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), and then she goes and votes for campaign finance reform and against President Clinton's impeachment. What do you do? You take a pass.

State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Montgomery), who has been in the legislature since 1990, has decided to do just that. He isn't up for reelection in the General Assembly next year, which meant he could have run against Morella without giving up his seat.

"I seriously considered it," he said. But he added: "I think Connie Morella is very tough to beat. It's a tough race any year, and this year it might be tougher than usual. You don't have the Gingrich Congress to rally against."

His decision means that lawyer Ralph G. Neas, who ran against Morella last year, is the only Democrat currently planning to take on the popular Republican.

Marriott Malcontent

When J.W. Marriott Jr. decided to extend the lease on his hotel company's Montgomery County headquarters last week, there was much hoopla--many state and county officials were thrilled a major corporation was staying put.

There also was much grumbling--many other state and county officials were angry that it took lots of tax breaks to get Marriott to stay. Put Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery) in the second category.

In a letter to Marriott--which Billings supplied to reporters this week--he told the hotelier that it would be hypocritical for him to attend the festivities.

"You may recall that I frequently and publicly criticized you and your corporation for blackmailing the county and the state to pay you to remain in Montgomery County," Billings wrote.

"As a liberal Democrat, I firmly believe that government ought to be a source of a hand up, not a hand out. Your company didn't need a hand up, so it demanded a hand out. So much for laissez faire. Obviously, the Marriott Corporation only supports capitalism when corporate socialism isn't more profitable."

So there.

New Veterans Administrator

Maryland has a new Department of Veterans Affairs and now it has a new leader, Thomas E. Bratten Jr.

Glendening appointed Bratten, who lives in Friendsville, last week. He takes the job Oct. 1, when the new department officially opens.

Bratten has been active in veterans issues for a long time, serving most recently as director of the Maryland Veterans Commission. One of Maryland's most highly decorated veterans, Bratten is a retired Army captain who was disabled in his service in Vietnam.

The department was formed by the legislature during this year's General Assembly session and combines the state Veterans Commission, the Veterans' Home Commission and the War Memorial Commission.

"Tom Bratten is a real American hero who has dedicated his career to improving the lives of both veterans and disabled Marylanders," Glendening said.

Staff writer Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.