Robert J. Sanner stood near his table in the Odenton Fire Hall and couldn't believe his eyes.
It was his job to verify names and hand out ballots to members of the Odenton Improvement Association for itsbiennial election.
That usually means checking off 30 or 35 people. But 150 showed up Wednesday night, many waving $3 at him and demanding to be registered.
"Where have you been the last year?" he half-hollered out. "This is unbelievable. This bugs the blooming daylights out of me. It's not that we wouldn't like to have them as members, but why wait untiltonight?"
For longtime residents like Sanner, Wednesday's election changed the way the community does business.
When plans surfacedfor the 4,700-unit Seven Oaks and the 4,000-unit Piney Orchard, manyin Odenton feared the developments would shift the balance of power away from the old guard.
And when The Halle Cos.' last-minute flier went out to thousands of new homeowners, urging them to reject the Odenton Improvement Association's slate of officers in favor of a Halle-backed group, those fears were realized.
New members -- some ofthem employees of Warren Halle who live in Burtonsville, Silver Spring and Rockville -- paid their dues and voted for the alternate slate.
Halle's candidate for president, Mary Chewning, squeaked by Sally Shoemaker, 69-67. Two other candidates favored by the developer wonseats on the board of directors.
Sanner stood near his desk, stunned. "We are glad to have the new members," he said. "But what is thepurpose behind it?"
Yesterday, Alfred Shehab, an active Odenton resident, past president of the improvement association and chairman of the committee working to design the new town center, resigned his life-time membership.
"To me, it was the Mafia coming in without guns," Shehab said of Halle. "I thought it was disgraceful. I don't feel the association represents me anymore."
Shehab said the community will lose the respect of county officials, who once looked at the improvement association as a gauge of resident sentiment. "They have lost credibility because of the way the election was held," he said.
The flier announcing the alternate candidates was drawn up by the Seven Oaks Home Owners Association and distributed Tuesday night. The president of the association is Steven N. Fleischman, vice president of The Halle Cos.
"Seven Oaks' residents and the people of Odentonneed a voice in Anne Arundel County government," the flier says on top. At the bottom, it touts six programs for Odenton, including education, redistricting and helping the community's homeless.
Fleischman said his company, which is locked in a battle both in and out of court with the county and the community over his development, did not handpick Chewning for president.
He said he heard rumors that Chewning was interested in running for president, and he called her to see if she was someone his company could support.
"We thought she was a fine person who could do the job," Fleischman said. "We jumped onand said we would support her."
Fleischman said he then called other Odenton residents and asked if they would consider running for the remaining board positions. He found three, including Dan Thomlinson, whose job is showing apartments in a Seven Oaks community.
Fleischman also recruited Richard Whalen, who is retired and lives in Seven Oaks, and Gladys Twardowski of Severn. Twardowski and Thomlinson won; Whalen lost.
Fleischman played down the fact that the flier does not say who sent it, which confused some voters who thought the Halle candidates were running unopposed.
"We were trying to put something together quickly," Fleischman said. "We didn't hide Seven Oaks. It says 'Seven Oaks residents.' "
Chewning, interviewed before theelection took place, said she was unaware of the flier and said she had not been solicited to run by anyone from Halle.
She said she was contacted by about a dozen Odenton residents, whom she refused to name, who wanted to see her run.
Chewning, a Hanover resident who has lived in Greater Odenton for 40 years, has been community affairschairwoman of the West County Chamber of Commerce for three years. She does clerical work for her husband's firm, which owns and rents property in Odenton.
Her husband, Bill, serves with Fleischman on several committees trying to devise a design for the Odenton Town Center.
"There is respect that we have toward each other because we arebusiness people," she said. "If we disagree, we disagree respectfully."
Fleischman said Chewning was not his candidate. "We've had situations with Mary before," he said. "We've agreed on issues and we'vedisagreed on issues. We're not backing Mary because she will do everything we want her to. That is totally absurd."
Chewning said she ran for office because she thought the improvement association concentrated too much on zoning and not enough on recreation, homelessness and organized drug and alcohol abuse programs -- such as the program Halle paid for last year for West County.
A major catalyst for Halle proposing the alternate slate, Fleischman said, was his failure last year to block a bill limiting what can be built on the town centerproperty, a mini-city serving Greater Odenton.
Halle has continually complained that the committee, made up of developers and Odenton residents, was stacked in favor of growth opponents. Chewning said she agreed and would act as a peace-maker between the two groups.
"Iam a very community-oriented person," Chewning said. "I am not mixedup in all of this zoning and developments. I think that is the only thing (the Odenton Improvement Association) has done. I don't see where they have focused on the needs of the community."