Baltimore County voters have elected their first Republican county executive since Spiro T. Agnew won the post in 1962.
And if the state's incumbent members of Congress escaped the voters' wrath unscathed but for one, Baltimore County incumbents suffered for them: Besides Democratic County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, three County Council members and the sheriff were swept from office.
Despite that strong "anti-incumbent" tide, the controversial ballot question to limit property tax growth to 2 percent a year failed by a slim margin.
In selecting Republican former school board president Roger B. Hayden, as county executive by 118,665 votes to 73,556, the voters crushed Rasmussen, who was considered so strong a candidate as late as last spring no other Democrat dared run against him.
Even Hayden, 45, a lifelong Democrat until he switched party registration to make this race, was a last-minute entry. County Republicans had searched without success for a more seasoned political veteran to take on the well-financed Rasmussen.
Despite his shock at his huge loss, in which he grabbed 38 percent to Hayden's 62 percent, Rasmussen conceded with a smile at 10:45 last night at a Belair Road catering hall. He offered congratulations to his opponent and wished him well. His greatest regret, the 43-year-old county executive said, is that "I feel I disappointed you and let you down. That's the most difficult part for me to deal with."
Hayden was introduced to a shrieking, happy crowd at his Perring Parkway headquarters shortly after 11 p.m. by Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd.
His first statement was to thank "a whole bunch of Democrats out there. You know what a two-party system does? It gives you balance. A one-party system gives you arrogance. It gives you someone who doesn't care," he said of Rasmussen. I'm going to be out in the streets . . . You have a problem? Come talk to me."
Hayden revealed nothing of plans he has for changing county government last night, saying only that his first decision would be to take a few days off. He added that he would try to pare the county payroll by attrition to avoid layoffs.
Rasmussen's concession was greeted by gasps and tears from his supporters. He said he'd welcome having more time for his wife, Joan, and his two daughters. Kristi Rasmussen, 13, cried as her parents smiled and hugged their supporters. Rasmussen said he thought it would be close, but believed until last night that he would win.
He pointed to poor vote totals for Gov. William Donald Schaefer in some parts of the county as proof that the results had little to do with he or Hayden, but were merely a manifestation of general voter frustration and resentment. He said he suffered for "frustration and anger that should have been directed somewhere else, to the White House or Congress."
State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Balto. Co., whose Pikesville-Randallstown precincts supported Rasmussen, said "My district didn't go crazy. My district thinks about the issues. The rest of them are talk show districts . . . and talk is cheap. I think it's ridiculous," she said.
The anti-incumbent landslide left only two of the seven council incumbents in office for another term.
Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, and Mel Mintz, D-2nd, were the only survivors. Twelve-year veterans Barbara F. Bachur, D-4th, and Ronald B. Hickernell, D-1st, both lost, along with one-term incumbent William R. Evans, D-6th. Sixteen-year incumbent Norman W. Lauenstein, D-5th, and Dale T. Volz, D-7th, had lost in the Democratic primary to Vincent Gardina and Donald Mason, respectively.
Along with Gardina and Mason, the new County Council members are Berchie Lee Manley, who beat Hickernell; Douglas Riley, who defeated Bachur, and William A. Howard 4th, who beat Evans.
Norman Pepersack, the Republican candidate for sheriff, also won, unseating Democrat J. Edward "Ned" Malone.
Although Hayden's upset victory must be considered remarkable by any political standard, most observers felt that voters followed a straight Republican line, determined to oust incumbent Democrats. Polls showed that many voters, even those who said they planned to vote for Hayden, knew little about him and just wanted to defeat Rasmussen.
Criticized as a personally remote big spender too enamored of the symbols of power, Rasmussen was beset by property tax protesters and the nationwide anti-incumbent mood that swept voters. The executive's failure early in the campaign to take the threat seriously, confront his tormentors and to campaign vigorously hastened his fall, according to observers within his own political camp.
Rasmussen raised more than $1 million since his election in 1986, compared with about one-tenth that amount for Hayden. He pitted his veteran political organization against a patchwork of volunteers helping Hayden.
His defeat leaves Donald P. Hutchinson, who was executive from 1978-1986, as the only county executive to serve two full terms in office.