IN 1990, the unthinkable happened. Republicans won three of the area's county executive seats. In 1994, the unavoidable might happen. Republicans could lose two of those seats.
Begin with Anne Arundel County. The incumbent county executive, Republican Robert R. Neall, is abandoning politics for what he hopes will be an after-life of board rooms and high-bracket salaries.
Mr. Neall's abdication creates not only a vacancy but sets off a chain reaction in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans are likely to coalesce around Del. John G. Gary. But there's always the threat of that permanent campaigner, former Del. John Leopold, spoiling the GOP's best-laid plans.
Among Democrats, former Anne Arundel county councilman and current delegate, Theodore J. Sophocleus, is anxious to reprise his 1990 campaign for county executive, which he lost by a nose to Mr. Neall. And so, too, is David G. Boschert considering the race by dint of being forced out as County Council president by Anne Arundel's new term limitation law.
In Baltimore County, two, possibly three Democrats are taking dead aim at Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden. They are County Council President Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd. A third possibility is Sen. Nancy L. Murphy of the 12th District. Of the three, Mr. Ruppersberger is the only active candidate so far.
While Mr. Mintz already has $215,000 in the bank, Mr. Ruppersberger has enlisted a number of big-foot fundraisers, including H. Furlong Baldwin, Mercantile Bank chairman, and Hanan "Bean" Sibel, chairman of Chaimson Brokerage Co.
Mr. Hayden was elected in 1990 after a one-note anti-tax campaign with a mandate to cut government spending. Since taking office, however, Mr. Hayden has angered virtually every major constituency in Baltimore County. He double-crossed the anti-tax lobby by raising the piggyback tax. He enraged government employees by cutting the budget and terminating several hundred county workers. He initially let down the business community by failing to deal with economic development. And Mr. Hayden also has had to put up with a wicked whispering campaign about his personal life.
Of the three Republicans who won their stripes in 1990, only Charles Ecker appears to be in the re-election safety zone as executive of Howard County. The incumbent Mr. Ecker defeated in 1990, M. Elizabeth Bobo, had talked earlier about trying to reclaim the office but downgraded her attempt to return to elective politics by choosing to run instead for the House of Delegates.
Two other vacancies in big-county executive offices are occurring, one for certain, the other probable. They are in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.
In Prince George's, County Executive Parris Glendening is running for governor, and the set-up to succeed him is a fascinating exercise in black-white politics in a county that's 50 percent of each. And it also involves a wheels-within-wheels personal duel between Mr. Glendening and his arch-rival, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller.
There are four Democratic candidates for the office, a white woman and a black woman, a white male and a black male. The white candidates are council members Richard Castaldi (upper county) and Sue V. Mills (south county). The black candidates are Sen. Beatrice P. Tignor and lawyer Wayne Curry.
Ms. Tignor has been endorsed by Mr. Miller and the county's black senator, Albert R. Wynn. And Mr. Curry has Mr. Glendening's seal of approval as well as that of the county's business community.
But local hobbyists say the key to the outcome of the PeeGee county executive race could be Mayor Kurt Schmoke's decision to remove himself from the contest for governor. With Mr. Schmoke in the race, black voters would have rallied around black candidates in large numbers. So a white candidate is given a better than even chance of winning, and Ms. Mills could be the sleeper.
In neighboring Montgomery County, it's considered likely that Democrat Neal Potter will not run for re-election as county executive. And his predecessor, Sid Kramer, has already announced that he won't attempt to reclaim the job he lost in 1990.
There are four, possibly five Democrats and two Republicans angling to succeed Mr. Potter as executive of Maryland's most populous subdivision. Councilman Bruce T. Adams came to Montgomery politics by way of Princeton and Common Cause. He's kind of a soulmate of Mr. Potter's in the slow-to-no-growth movement in MoCo which is dominated by the civic associations.
Another is Democrat candidate Douglas M. Duncan, long-time mayor of Rockville, who bypassed that election so he could concentrate on the campaign for county executive. Add to the list Gus Bauman, the county's planning director, and Marilyn J. Praisner, president of the Montgomery County school board. There are those in Montgomery who believe that Sen. Mary Boergers could very well abandon her campaign for governor and enter the free-for-all for county executive.
The Republicans running for executive of Montgomery -- which has the largest number of GOP voters (134,776) in Maryland -- are James Culp, a retired C&P Telephone Co. executive, and Carrol Traywick, president of the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.
So while nobody wants to be governor, there's no shortage of candidates for county executive in Maryland's largest counties.
Frank A. DeFilippo writes here on Maryland politics.