Hallelujah Times in Harford

November 13, 1990

For reformers and Republicans, these are hallelujah times in Harford. County voters showed their muscle and swept the b'hoys out of office.

Consider this: Political kingpin William H. Cox was ousted from the House of Delegates. So was another Democratic incumbent, Joseph Lutz. Two county councilmen, both two-term Democrats, were beaten. So was Charles B. Anderson, a former Democratic county executive attempting a political comeback. Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann managed to capture the county executive's office, but by a slim margin of 775 votes.

Combined with the house-cleaning in the primaries, these results spell a fresh political start for Harford County. Four of the seven county council members are novices; five of the seven are Republicans. In Annapolis, newly elected Democratic Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr. will preside over an altered delegation.

The emergence of a viable two-party system in Harford should trigger soul-searching among both Democratic and Republican activists.

Republicans are overjoyed by their victories. Before the election, they worked hard and erased much of the traditional Democratic edge in Harford. Five years ago, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the county by 2.24-to-1; the ratio now is 1.63-to-1. But these figures alone do not explain the GOP success.

Voter resentment toward incumbents (who happened to be Democrats) played a decisive role. Now that they are in, successful Republican candidates ought to examine not only their individual agendas but also redefine their party's goals and philosophy. Do they want the Harford GOP be the party of Spiro Agnew and John Marshall Butler or Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin and Charles Mathias? Unless this choice is made in thoughts and deeds, today's Republican victors may be the targets of a future wave of discontent.

Democrats should engage in similar self-examination. Where did they go wrong? What should they do to ensure fresh ideas and new faces? The voters' message was clear. They were tired of tainted incumbents and wanted alternatives. They also want more attention paid to the environment and planning.

Because of her two terms in the House of Delegates, Mrs. Rehrmann enters the county executive's office with more legislative experience than the vastly changed council. Yet she still must learn how to run a government. It would be unwise to try to bully the Republican council. Its members may be inexperienced, but they have the voters' mandate and their own agendas. Mrs. Rehrmann's early success will be measured by her ability to crystallize conflicting ideas into priorities that are shared by a majority on the council.

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