Democrat William H. Cox Jr., the third-highest ranking member in the state House of Delegates, was swept away by a tide of voter discontent Tuesday, ousting him after 20 years in office.
Election observers say Cox lost his re-election bid because of news reports that showed he was a guarantor of Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc.'s loan for its proposed asbestos and rubble fill near Havre de Grace.
"The whole Gravel Hill rubble fill fiasco hurt the Democrats," said Michael Davall, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee. "It specifically helped our candidates."
Cox, the House majority whip, placed fourth in the race for the three District 34 seats, trailing the top three finishers by nearly 1,800 votes.
Cox, of Bel Air, came in fifth in his home precinct.
In the county's other delegation race, Democratic incumbent Joseph V.
Lutz came in last in a field of four candidates for the two District 35A seats. Lutz, of Forest Hill, also lost in his home precinct.
Lutz, first elected in 1982, fell victim to the widespread anti-incumbent sentiment that spelled defeat for many veteran politicians throughout Maryland, observers say.
The election results:
* District 34 -- Democrat Rose Mary H. Bonsack, 13,370 votes; Democrat Mary Louis Preis, 13,042; Republican David R. Craig, 12,029; Cox, 10,292; Republican David M. Meadows, 10,065; and Republican Cecil W. Wood, 9,834.
* District 35A -- Republican James M. Harkins, 10,123 votes; Democrat Donald C. Fry, 8,792; Republican Dorothy Polek Stancill, 8,593; and Lutz, 7,945.
Cox could not be reached for comment.
In an interview before the election, Cox said he did not believe the rubble fill was an issue in his campaign. "I've heard very little about it," he said. "It's all newspaper talk."
The rubble fill controversy resulted in a series of lawsuits in Harford Circuit Court involving the County Council and residents who live near the site, which is not in Cox's district. Depositions given in the suits showed that county officials believed Cox "fast-tracked" the Maryland Reclamation plan through the state Department of the Environment.
Before the election, Cox's opponents said they expected the rubble fill issue and the anti-incumbent sentiment to help them.
David W. Shrodes, chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, said he believes the rubble fill was the issue that broke Cox's political back.
"Anyone who's been in office for 20 years, you build up a certain amount of negatives," Shrodes said.
Republican County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, a staunch opponent to the rubble fill, agreed.
"In Mr. Cox's defeat, I think (the rubble fill) was the final nail in his political coffin," Wilson said.
In the District 35A race, Lutz said his loss was caused by the anti-incumbent movement, particularly since there were no controversial issues during the campaign.
While on the campaign trail, Lutz said many voters told him that they wouldn't vote for him because he was an incumbent -- even after Lutz pointed out his accomplishments.
"I'm proud of my eight years in Annapolis," Lutz said. "I did good things for Harford County."
Lutz pointed to his role in getting more money for Harford County's schools and roads as his top accomplishment.
But Lutz said he isn't turning his back on county politics. He said he will remain active in the community and consider running for another office.
As a result of the election, Harford County will not send any incumbents to the House of Delegates in Annapolis.
In addition to Cox and Lutz, the county delegation's three other incumbents either sought election to other offices or lost in the September primary.
The lack of experience on the new delegation concerns Lutz.
"We have always been a small delegation," said Lutz, vice chairman of the economic matters committee. "But we've been able to hold our own because of the leadership positions we had. "I think it's going to be a tougher road to go down to maintain the level of funding we have received," he said.
"Obviously, there will be some learning to be done," Davall said.
"Things will be a little rough at first, but they'll learn quickly."
Shrodes added that the county will still have ties to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's office through the county executive-elect Eileen M.
Fry, elected to District 35A, pointed out that the members of the delegation share concerns over education and government spending. He added that all the members have political experience, although not in Annapolis.
Harkins, also elected to District 35A, said the new delegation has not met to set an agenda yet. He said the delegation's top priority will be to provide the county with "good, honest government."