Rehrmann Machine Sweeps Democratic Primary

Superior Organization, 'Imaging' Credited

September 16, 1990|By Carol Bowers and Karen Keeney | Carol Bowers and Karen Keeney,Staff writers

A highly organized campaign, plenty of endorsements and old-fashioned momentum contributed to Delegate Eileen M. Rehrmann's crushing defeat of her chief opponent, Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher, in the Democratic primary race for county executive, say political observers.

Rehrmann, who started her political career as a town commissioner in Bel Air in 1979 and was elected to the General Assembly in 1983, swept all but one of the county's 44 precincts, which included absentee ballots, Tuesday.

On Tuesday night Rehrmann had with her, as she has throughout the campaign, her "guardian angel" -- a tiny gold pin in the shape of an angel that Rehrmann said a supporter gave her for luck at the beginning of the campaign.

"This is fantastic," said a jubilant Rehrmann shortly after 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday when she gave her victory speech to about 300 supporters crammed into her North Main Street campaign headquarters in Bel Air.

"I didn't think I'd win by this much. We just kept knocking on doors, making as much personal contact as possible."

Many had predicted the vote tally between Rehrmann, 47, and Risacher, 45, would be close.

But it was a landslide for Rehrmann, who received 11,755 votes to Risacher's 6,316. A third candidate in the Democratic primary, Bel Air accountant John P. Seisman, received 1,421 votes.

Rehrmann took 57.9 percent of the vote to Risacher's 31 percent. Seisman received 7 percent of the votes.

The Republican candidate, Geoffrey R. Close, was unopposed in the primary.

David W. Shrodes, a member of the county's Democratic Central Committee, credited the landslide victory to Rehrmann's campaign organization and the fact that she had the public support of the mayors of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

Negative ads run by Risacher supporters also may have backfired, observed Shrodes.

"It showed Harford County's approval of her (Rehrmann) as a state delegate," said Shrodes. "No way you can win a majority like that with an anti-vote."

Risacher, who has held the District A council seat for 12 years and was the first candidate to announce a bid for county executive this year, may have wished for a good-luck charm of her own Tuesday night as she experienced the first defeat of her political career. The three-term incumbent easily won her three races for the county council.

Risacher blamed her 2-to-1 vote margin defeat solely on money -- specifically, on the fact that Rehrmann outspent her 2-to-1 on the campaign.

Rehrmann spent $150,837 of the $188,689 she raised for her campaign, her Aug. 26 campaign report showed.

Rehrmann will have a cash balance of $37,852 to begin her campaign for the general election with Republican Geoffrey Close, her campaign report showed.

Risacher spent $80,344 of the $86,137 she raised for her campaign.

"I think we should have done more glossy brochures with no facts, and just imaging," said Risacher in a reference to a Rehrmann brochure mailed to county households.

Rehrmann's brochure, titled "Home is Harford County," was comprised mostly of photos. The photographs showed Rehrmann as a toddler, high school graduate and bride. The brochure also paired a photo of a crowded parking lot with one of children in a park, and asked voters which they'd choose for Harford County's future.

The brochure implied that a Risacher administration would lead to uncontrolled development, while a Rehrmann administration would mean open space and parks.

During the campaign, Risacher and Rehrmann promised to control development. Rehrmann called for impact fees while Risacher emphasized support for an adequate public facilities law, also known as an APF law.

APF laws generally prohibit development where facilities are inadequate, while impact fees are charged by county government to developers. The money is generally used to pay for upgrading public facilities in development areas.

Risacher said she would also involve citizens in planning for development.

Rehrmann supporters surmised that Risacher's stands on the disposal of mustard agent at Aberdeen Proving Ground and a controversial asbestos rubble fill proposal cost Risacher votes.

Risacher has supported on-site incineration of mustard agent, which Rehrmann opposes. Risacher first abstained from voting on the rubble fill proposal, then voted against the rubble fill, now tied up in litigation.

"Those two major issues did her in," said Linda Koplovitz, president of Concerned Citizens for Maryland's Environment, an Edgewood citizens group that has opposed on-site incineration. Rehrmann won by a large margin in each precinct. She fared best in her home precinct, Bel Air's 3-12 precinct, where she garnered 69 percent of the vote to Risacher's 24.7 percent.

The only precinct Rehrmann failed to carry was at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where she split with Risacher; each received one vote.

In contrast, Risacher, a Joppa resident and home health care nurse, did poorly even in the precincts in District A, which she represents on the council.

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