SALISBURY, Md. – Thelma Hopkins has some firm convictions about crime.
It “has gotten so bad you can’t even go shopping – in the middle of the day even,” said the 53-year-old Salisbury resident and food service worker.
“That’s right,” chimed in 61-year-old Barbara Chatham, as she loaded groceries into the trunk of her car. “You have to go together, like we are now.”
Interviews with 22 people Tuesday in shopping areas of Ocean City, Berlin, Salisbury and Easton revealed that crime, drugs and welfare topped their lists of concern.
Eight people mentioned crime as their chief worry, eight mentioned drugs and six mentioned welfare, or “give-aways.”
Harry Eckman, a 36-year-old Berlin resident and mechanic, said the federal government should supply counties and towns with money for a narcotics task force.
Jennifer Berkman, a 37-year-old Salisbury resident and director of the student health center at Salisbury State University, said more funding should be funneled toward drug and alcohol education.
“People want their children to go to a safe school. And people want to feel like they live in a safe place,” she said. “And I know I’m not.”
Others, when asked about problems facing the country and their communities, gave answers ranging from President Clinton and the chicken smell from the processing plant down the street to taxes and what one described as a reality gap between politicians and their constituents.
The interviews also revealed that all but one of the 19 registered voters said they’ll vote for Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest for Congress. Supporters cited his down-to-earth approach to government and dedication to his district.
Only Diane King, a 36-year-old collection specialist who recently moved with her husband to Berlin, said she would not support the Republican in his 1st District re-election race against Democratic challenger Steven Eastaugh.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lived here long enough to know the candidates well enough to vote,” she said. “I only vote when I know their positions.”
Questions about the presidential candidates indicated supporters of Clinton place more importance on the candidates’ age than Robert J. Dole’s supporters do.
Supporters of the Democratic president included two Republicans and six Democrats.
Five Republicans and one independent voter said they’d vote for Dole.
Three voters – one Republican and two independents – said they were undecided on a presidential choice. And two registered voters said they will not vote in November.
When asked about their congressman, both Republicans and Democrats positively evaluated Gilchrest’s three terms in office.
“He’s down to earth, honest and really cares about people and what he’s trying to do,” said Lavona Webb, a 69-year-old Bishopville resident and registered Democrat. “Even if he’s a Republican.”
Her husband, Paul Webb, agreed. “You almost have to [vote for him],” the 71-year-old Bishopville resident and registered Democrat said. “Normally I wouldn’t, but he’s done a pretty good job.”
Many praised the 50-year-old congressman’s sincerity.
“Gilchrest is honest and tells it like it is,” said Ralph Harcum, a 70-year-old Hebron farmer and registered Republican. “I don’t think he’s trying to snooker anybody.
“He’s better than that … mealy-mouthed Eastaugh. He’s lied about everything – even where he was born.”
Officials with both the Republican and Democratic parties acknowledged some untruths in Eastaugh’s campaign, including the candidate’s hometown.
Claiming voters need a congressman of the Eastern Shore – Gilchrest is a New Jersey native – Eastaugh initially said he was born in Cambridge. Although he grew up in Cambridge, Md., the 44- year-old public health professor at George Washington University later acknowledged he was born in Cambridge, Mass.
Words like “honesty” and “trust” peppered people’s answers when talking about presidential choices.
King, a registered Republican, said personality and personal ethics were her primary considerations in deciding to vote for Clinton. Four of eight Clinton supporters and three of six Dole supporters also ranked these considerations high.
“He’s so down to earth and so straight forward and so honest,” King said of Clinton. “I couldn’t believe he was running for president.”
But when asked what she disliked about the president, she said he changes his viewpoint too often and tailors his remarks to his audiences.
Dole supporters also touted their candidate’s values.
“Dole tells it like it is,” Harcum said. “But he let himself get talked into a trap where he can’t name Clinton’s faults. He’s trying to be a nicey-nice Sunday school boy and that don’t work in politics.”
Some voters also made an issue of the candidates’ ages.
Six of eight Clinton supporters said age was a primary consideration while five of six Dole supporters said it did not factor into their decision. Clinton is 50. Dole is 73.
“Clinton is younger and more aware of everything,” said Louise Sherod, a 63-year-old Pasadena resident and registered Republican. “He doesn’t want to stay back in the older days and he’s willing to try something different.”
“He’s still got a little youth left in him,” agreed Richard Bratcher, 26, a Graysonville Democrat and Taco Bell manager.
But others saw Dole’s age as an advantage. “Because of his age, I can relate to him and understand what he’s saying,” said Harold Hicks, 72, of Salisbury, an Eastern Shore tour guide.