Austerity message that lost '90 race works for school candidate in '92 COUNTYWIDE ELECTION '92

November 05, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

It didn't work when she preached about belt-tightening in her bid for a school board seat two years ago.

"They didn't want to hear that the money wasn't there for their programs," Sandra French said of that unsuccessful campaign.

But yesterday, after coming out on top in a four-way race for two seats, she attributed her victory in part to that same message -- "anything outside of the classroom is fair game," she had said -- and voters' concerns about the future of education in tough economic times.

And she relished the victory.

"It's just started to sink in," Ms. French said. Name recognition from the 1990 campaign also helped, as did a strong volunteer network, she said.

"People had a chance to see I was a credible person, that I'm a caring person and honest," Ms. French said.

The 48-year-old administrative assistant and former substitute teacher, led the balloting with 47,170 votes. Placing second was Linda L. Johnston, a 50-year-old professor of health education at Howard Community College. She received 39,082 votes.

The two beat Delroy L. Cornick, 64, a former associate superintendent in the Washington D.C. schools who had been endorsed by the local teachers union, the Howard County Education Association, and S. Melvina Brown, 48, a real estate sales representative and former teacher who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in 1982. Mr. Cornick garnered 26,799 votes. Ms. Brown got 20,762.

Ms. Johnston said a strong alliance of friends and family, and increased voter interest in education helped her to win. A core team of volunteers passed out 10,000 fliers and 7,000 pamphlets.

"There was a strong interest in the school board from different facets of the community," Ms. Johnston said of the election.

Ms. Johnston said she also helped convince undecided voters to select her by appearing at shopping markets and polling places in the last days before the election.

"That personal touch made an impression on undecided voters," she said.

James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, which also endorsed Ms. Johnston, said voters were attracted to her sincerity and willingness to tackle tough issues such as budget problems.

"They saw in her an understanding of the issues -- a sincere caring for our educational system and our children," he said.

Ms. French and Ms. Johnston will replace school board members Ruth Y. Hutchinson and Karen B. Campbell on Dec. 10.

Both the losing candidates are black, and at least one, Ms. Brown, said race made the campaign more difficult for her.

"It's not easy for an African-American to win in Howard County," she said Tuesday night at Kohler Hall, where county Democratics were tabulating election results.

"I don't know why it is," she added. "The county is still very conservative."

Mr. Cornick accepted his defeat with good humor and pragmatism.

"I didn't get enough votes," he said. "I think I ran a good fight, I just got out-polled."

Mr. Cornick said his defeat represents a missed chance for Howard County voters.

"Historically, blacks don't do too well at the polls," he said. "Here was the opportunity to have a very qualified African American with all the credentials, and it didn't happen."

The HCEA is encouraging Mr. Cornick to run again.

"He ran a very good race," said Mr. Swab. "He's very competent and we're encouraging him to stay active and run again in 1994."

The last black person to serve on the school board was Bill Manning, whose term expired in 1988, said schools' spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

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