The losses of two Democratic incumbent council members in Tuesday's primary election have given hope to the GOP in Baltimore County where no Republican has held county office since 1978.
And even if Republican nominee Roger B. Hayden fails in his admittedly uphill struggle to beat well-financed County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, the GOP hopes to capture a County Council seat -- or two.
Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, said she thinks the defeat of incumbent council members Dale T. Volz, D-7th, and Norman W. Lauenstein, D-5th, and the close victory for Ronald B. Hickernell, nTC D-1st, "creates a definite opening" for Republicans.
Bentley confessed she was surprised, in particular, at 16-year veteran Lauenstein's defeat by Vincent Gardina, and she said she will be taking a close look at what she may be able to do to help Hayden, former school board president.
"It says something," the county's top Republican said of losses suffered by the incumbents. "They want some changes in Towson."
Republican Patricia M. Fullagar is running against Gardina.
Councilwoman Barbara F. Bachur, D-4th, who represents the Towson area, may face a strong challenge from Douglas Riley, an attorney who hopes to exploit any hard feelings against incumbents in a district with a large number of Republican voters.
"There's an awful lot of sentiment to change the people in government," Riley said, adding that he thinks Republicans will benefit. "People really went ballistic when they [county government] didn't lower the tax rate. And they're mad at the pay raises both for the executive and the council."
Riley says hard campaigning by him, combined with the "throw them out" mentality, will make him a winner. Bachur, who easily beat her challenger, John S. Holman, with 70 percent of the vote, said she expects to keep her seat in November.
Both Democrats and Republicans manning polling places Tuesday reported that many of the voters are unhappy with the Rasmussen administration, either because of rising property taxes or what they feel is poorly controlled growth. There was criticism of Rasmussen's style as symbolized by his upcoming 16 percent pay raise, the Lincoln Town Car he uses for transportation, or the money he spent on renovating the courthouse and other facilities.
"Dennis ought to take stock. There was a clear lesson [in the election results] . . . that there are questions about government spending," Bachur said.
Councilman William R. Evans, D-6th, agreed that there's a message for Rasmussen in the election results. "Absolutely," he said. "People are fed up with spending policies and taxes."
Evans will face William A. Howard 4th in the general election.
Gardina, a former police officer and computer analyst for Bell Atlantic, said voter anger over congestion and loosely controlled development was only part of the reason for his victory over Lauenstein. Besides his own door-to-door campaigning, he said people were just tired of the incumbent.
In Perry Hall and Kingsville, anti-growth sentiment helped Gardina, and voters in Essex saw Lauenstein as not responsive and complacent. Gardina said senior citizens in Essex resent paying taxes to pay for development in Perry Hall and Owings Mills.
Republican candidates in the other districts are Berchie Lee Manley, who will face Hickernell; George W. Murphy, who is challenging Mel Mintz in the 2nd District; Henry C. Merchant 3rd, the GOP candidate in the north county's 3rd District, where Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger is the incumbent; and Lawrence O. Williams Jr., who will oppose Donald Mason in Dundalk's 7th District.
For his part, Rasmussen continued yesterday to say that although he will run a very vigorous campaign in the general election, he feels the losses of Lauenstein and Volz were due to particular factors peculiar to their districts and personalities, and hold no threat to his own chances for re-election.
Hayden, who is running a shoestring campaign for county executive, disagreed, saying that the defeat of the two incumbent councilmen and Hickernell's close shave show the level of voter anger that will ultimately be directed at Rasmussen.
Hayden and the GOP plan to take full advantage of that anger. He said the results of the primaries "puts us in a position to move forward on an optimistic track. We saw at all the polls a tremendous dissatisfaction with the current administration."