Both political parties were gearing up for a battle about growth management in Howard County after Charles I. Ecker earned the right to challenge Democratic County Executive Elizabeth Bobo in the general election.
Ecker glided to a 2-1 margin of victory yesterday over Gilbert I. South for the GOP nomination in the county primary election that mirrored low voter turnout across Maryland. Ecker garnered 4,830 votes, or 68 percent of the vote, while South, the GOP nominee in 1986, managed only 2,305, or 32 percent.
Unofficial returns showed that only 22,469 -- 24 percent -- of the county's 92,801 voters cast votes yesterday.
"I feel very fortunate and humble that people have expressed confidence in me," Ecker said last night at the Board of Elections as returns showed him gaining an insurmountable lead. "I had no way of telling how it was going to turn out, particularly with the light turnout."
South, who said he would support Ecker in the general election, blamed his defeat on the low turnout and the county's Republican leadership. He pledged to run again in 1994.
"The machine was in operation and it worked against me," he said. "It's extremely disappointing that the grass roots didn't show up at the polls. Now they're going to get higher taxes and growth is going to make the county look like Ritchie Highway," referring to the commercial strip in neighboring Anne Arundel County.
Ecker, a former associate superintendent of Howard County schools, said he would send a certified letter to Bobo today, asking her to participate in a series of three public forums.
Republicans said they would try to unseat Bobo by attacking her record on growth during her tenure as county executive and her eight years on County Council. Bobo responded that she welcomed the issue, and said her administration has imposed strong measures to manage the county's growth, the most rapid in the state during the past decade.
Bobo, who joined fellow Democrats at a festive Kahler Hall in the Harper's Choice Village Center, said Ecker's victory had no bearing on her campaign for a second term.
"Actually, we will run the same race we would have been running if South had won. We're running on our record," she said, praising her administration's fiscal, environmental, education and recycling policies.
In contested County Council races, incumbents Charles Feaga, R-5th, and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, fought off challengers to their seats.
Feaga squeezed past John Taylor, a staunch opponent of growth, by 201 votes. He amassed 1,250 votes (54 percent), to Taylor's 1,049 (46 percent.)
"I knew that it would be close," said Feaga, who survived a grueling campaign during which Taylor attacked him for accepting political contributions from developers and for seeking more growth in the rural fifth councilmanic district.
He said voters "know where I stand on the issues and that I'm not afraid to take a stand on any issue."
Pendergrass had an easier time, collecting 61 percent of the District 1 votes to defeat William C. Smith, a political newcomer. The incumbent tallied 1,827 votes to Smith's 1,118.
"My belief is that the victory represents that people are paying attention to my track record," said Pendergrass, who is serving as the council's chairwoman for the second straight year.
In one of the most intriguing races in the county, embattled Sheriff Herbert L. Stonesifer was rejected by Democratic voters, months after two of his deputies were suspended for mimicking Nazi behavior at the department's headquarters in the Howard Circuit Courthouse.
Michael A. Chiuchiolo, a retired police lieutenant collected 46 percent of the vote to win the Democratic primary over Stonesifer and two other opponents. He gained 5,967 votes while Stonesifer finished second with 4,009, or 31 percent. George W. Cunningham was third with 15 percent of the vote and Allen W. Kohler was fourth with 8 percent.
Chiuchiolo, surrounded at Kahler Hall by supporters in red T-shirts bearing his name, acknowledged the role of the Nazi mimicry controversy.
"It had to be a major impacting issue, one the sheriff would have to deal with. I think the voters took it to heart," said Chiuchiolo, who later was joined on the Kahler Hall platform by Stonesifer and Cunningham. He said his campaign was based on promoting "effective law enforcement management."
Although he ran the most visible campaign, he said he was uncertain of the election's outcome because of the number of people in the race.
Elsewhere, JoAnn C. Woodson Branche lost her bid to become the first black and woman to win a seat on the Circuit Court bench as Judge James B. Dudley retained his seat by collecting 57 percent of the Democratic vote and 69 percent of the Republican vote. Both candidates had cross-filed to run on both party's tickets.
Dudley's double victory virtually assures that he will serve a 15-year term in the seat to which Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed him last year.
In the race for a vacancy in the Board of Education, Sandra H. French, a former English teacher, finished ahead of four other candidates by collecting 7,527 votes. Her closest challenger was Susan J. Cook, who had 4,451 votes.