Education and crime have always been hot political issues in the county. People say they go to the polls thinking about them and make their choices based on where a candidate stands.

Could dog ownership be another one of those issues?

If the residents who testified in favor of a bill to lift the county's ban on pit bulls are any indication, the answer is yes.

After the County Council voted, 8-1, Tuesday to keep the county's nine-year-old ban in place, dozens of residents and dog advocates stormed out of the council chamber calling for voters to remove them from office. Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), sponsor of the bill that would have lifted the ban, was the lone member to vote for the measure.

"Just vote them out," one angry dog owner said as she departed.

"It's a sad day in the county when our elected officials don't listen to us," said Susan Flashman, a dog owner from Mount Rainier. "I'm a person who votes. Our district has [a lot] of dog owners."

Proponents of the bill say it would have strengthened the county's vicious-dog law. Even though the legislation called for repealing the ban, it would have required that potentially dangerous dogs be vaccinated and kept in a secure area. The bill would also have required that such dogs complete a behavior program and be fitted with a microchip identifying their owners

Council members who voted against the measure said that although they are sympathetic to dog owners' arguments, they worry about pit bulls having been used to attack people. With soaring crime problems in the county, some said, they didn't want to be seen as putting another weapon into criminals' hands.

And in This Corner . . .

On the campaign trail this week, the gloves came off.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan made their first joint appearance since the two Democrats announced their candidacies for governor. And it was this week in Prince George's County.

The fundraising event, sponsored by the county's Democratic Central Committee, was billed like the bout between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

"Let's Get Ready to Rumble," read the flier, with pictures of O'Malley's and Duncan's faces superimposed on the bodies of heavyweight boxers.

But O'Malley and Duncan threw most of their punches at Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), rather than at each other.

State Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's) said the depiction was her handiwork.

"Believe me, it stirred up a lot of interest," she said with a laugh.

* Speaking of Lawlah, despite all the chatter about her possibly retiring or joining the Erhlich administration, it looks as if she's planning to make another run for her Senate seat.

"Now you know, this is just the first round of the big battle," Lawlah said before O'Malley and Duncan spoke, adding that the general election against Ehrlich is "when we go against the real enemy." Those are not the kind of words one uses to describe a future ally.

As if that weren't signal enough, Lawlah greeted lobbyist and political consultant Wayne Clarke as she exited the banquet hall and asked "How are you?"

Clarke, who has close ties to Lawlah's likely opponent, the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, said, "I'm doing real good, real good."

Lawlah quickly responded: "Oh, we'll see about that."

* Meanwhile, as planned, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) officially became a U.S. senatorial candidate this week.

Steele made the announcement at Prince George's Community College, near his home in Largo.

National Republican leaders for months have been encouraging Steele, the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in Maryland, to seek the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Commemorating Kennedy

For you Kennedy fans out there, a touching endnote.

On June 15, 1959, an ambitious young Democratic senator named John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address inside the sweltering boys' gym at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. A plaque noting the future president's appearance was placed in a hallway at the school, but it was apparently misplaced during renovations that were completed several years ago.

As it turned out, the class that Kennedy addressed included a number of people who went on to achieve great success, among them a future U.S. senator, a governor, a newspaper publisher and five judges, including two federal jurists.

On Monday, the two Maryland federal judges -- U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte and U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus -- appeared before the Montgomery County school board to present the high school with a new plaque to replace the missing one.

Mark Shriver, a nephew of Kennedy's, was there to speak about his uncle's legacy. Bethesda-Chevy Chase Principal Sean Bulson accepted the plaque, which was paid for by members of the Class of 1959.

It features a quote from the commencement speech, with a picture of the late president on one side and the cover page of his speech on the other.

Messitte, 64, said his son Zach obtained a copy of the commencement speech from the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston in 1990. Zach Messitte had gone to the library to research his thesis on the televised debates between Kennedy and his opponent in the 1960 presidential race, Richard M. Nixon. While he was there, he asked for a copy of the speech, Messitte said.

The speech includes some of Kennedy's handwritten revisions. The original speech began, "I appreciate very much the opportunity to participate in this commencement exercise and to share briefly with you one of the memorable moments of your lives." Kennedy changed the latter part of the passage to "and to share briefly this memorable moment in the springtime of your lives."

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.