With all of Harford County's 40 election precincts tallied early today, Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann appeared to edge out Republican Geoffrey R. Close to win the job as the next county executive.
County election officials said there were still about 1,300 ballots to be counted by late tomorrow. The count also could affect County Council races in districts A and D.
Not counting the absentee ballots, Rehrmann's apparent margin of victory, 733 votes, was surprisingly narrow. She outspent Close by a 5-1 margin in the campaign and had the advantage of greater name recognition through a tough primary election fight, while Close came to the general election unopposed.
Rehrmann, 45, who has served eight years in the House of Delegates, also had strong backing from Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Close, 42, served 15 years on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners, including seven as mayor.
The closeness of the race suggested that Close's campaign to paint Rehrmann as a big spender who would change the current administration's fiscal conservatism had some effect.
Harford voters also turned down zoning that would have allowed a large shopping center at the site of the now-dead Windsor Mall project. The solid vote against Question B, the ballot question that involved the zoning issue, was seen as symbolizing the anti-growth sentiment in the county.
In other county races, Republican Jeffrey D. Wilson won the right to continue as president of the County Council. Wilson, 34, captured about 54 percent of the vote to about 45 percent by his Democratic opponent, District F Councilman Frederick J. Hatem, 63.
Two incumbent councilmen, Democrats J. Robert Hooper in District D and G. Edward Fielder in District E, were ousted. Republican Barry Glassman beat Hooper and Republican Robert S. Wagner beat Fielder.
Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, remains as the only incumbent on the council. The results leave Republicans outnumbering Democrats on the panel by 5-2, a flip-flop from the 5-2 margin that Democrats had held over the Republicans.
Parrott posted a solid victory over Democrat Jeffries Webster.
The fifth Republican would appear to be Susan B. Heselton, a political unknown who beat out Democrat Charles B. Anderson, a former county executive, to capture the District A seat.
The margin of victory for Glassman was 1,015 votes and the margin for Heselton was just 299 votes, so the outcomes of those races still are dependent on the absentee ballot count.
In councilmanic District C, Democrat Theresa M. Pierno was unopposed in yesterday. In District F, Democrat Phillip J. Barker also was unopposed.
Rehrmann was seen as the candidate to beat throughout the executive's race. Her solid victory in the primary election over County Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher, D-District A, by a margin of nearly 2-1, solidified her as the front-runner. But the tightness of the general election results surprised many local observers.
A major policy difference in the Rehrmann-Close campaign was Rehrmann's advocacy of impact fees on new development as a way of raising money to pay for public services. Close, a real estate agent, contended that impact fees would not be an effective way of raising money and would do nothing to slow the pace of development.
Both Rehrmann and Close launched attacks in radio and television ads in the past week.
Close had warned that his opponent would move the county away from fiscal conservatism, a policy espoused by the current executive, Habern W. Freeman Jr., and toward indebtedness. Even Freeman hinted that Close's management views were closer to his, though he stopped short of endorsing him. Rehrmann's ads said Close backed rampant commercial development and raised taxes while mayor of Bel Air, the county seat.
Freeman, a Democrat, is required by county law to leave office next month. He won the District 34 state Senate seat in the Democratic primary and faced no opposition in the general election.
Wilson, a Presbyterian minister and part-time farmer from rural Street, was appointed council president in January to fill the unexpired term of John W. Hardwicke, who resigned to become the state's chief administrative law judge.
Hatem, a well-known obstetrician from Havre de Grace, was appointed to the council in 1987, after the death of Frank J. Hutchins. Although Hatem had not faced an election campaign before this year, he posted a strong primary victory over former state Sen. Arthur H. Helton, winning by more than 2,000 votes.
Wilson gained recognition soon after he took office by siding with opponents of the Windsor Mall project and quickly trying to find a solution to a divisive debate over zoning that focused on the project. Since the campaign began, both Wilson and Hatem have tried to win favor by pushing through legislation dealing with environmental protection, growth and other issues.
Harford voters also turned down new zoning for what was to be the Windsor Mall parcel, a 200-acre tract at Interstate 95 and Md. 24 south of Bel Air. A ballot question asked voters to approve or disapprove the county's new comprehensive zoning law, but council legislation narrowed the question to a referendum on whether a large shopping center should be allowed at the site.
About 60 percent of the votes cast were against new zoning for a shopping center, and 40 percent were for it.