Ecker says, yes, he's running again

April 06, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Charles Isaac Ecker told 80 well-wishers and supporters outside his Columbia home yesterday what they have known for months -- if not years -- he'll seek another term as county executive.

If successful, Mr. Ecker, 64, would become only the second executive in the county's history to win a second term. Right now, he looks like a very good bet.

Not only is he likely to run unopposed in the Republican primary in September, but so far no Democrat has stepped forward either. The filing deadline for candidates is July 5.

Most of the potential challengers apparently have set their sights on other offices in 1994, preferring to wait until 1998 to make their executive run.

County Democrats were hoping a respected party regular would run against Mr. Ecker, but a challenger would be getting a late start in the polls and would have to raise a lot of money very quickly unless the campaign were self-financed.

Mr. Ecker estimates that the cost of the campaign could run as high as $200,000 -- an amount he appears to be able to raise easily. A Democratic challenger could have difficulty raising money this year with two new General Assembly races attracting a plethora of candidates.

Mr. Ecker was in a similar situation four years ago. He pumped more than $30,000 in personal funds into his campaign against ** M. Elizabeth Bobo, who appeared to be an unbeatable incumbent. Although the GOP thought of him as a stalking horse for a candidate in this year's election, Mr. Ecker thought otherwise. He believed he would win.

"Four years ago, they said I can't win," Mr. Ecker told the crowd outside his house yesterday. "Today, they say I can't lose. I didn't believe it then. I don't believe it now. I'm not taking anything for granted."

Democratic Central Committee member Charles A. Acquard agrees. "It is not too late," he said, "but unless we find a credible candidate soon it may be too late. The voter's haven't really focused in on the 1994 election, so any candidate can get there and run a credible campaign -- and win.

"We're in sort of the same position Chuck Ecker was. No one thought he had a chance, but he ran a very aggressive, smart campaign and won. There is no reason a smart Howard County Democrat can't do the same thing in 1994."

For now, however, the day belongs to Mr. Ecker. Supporters at yesterday's rally were enthusiastic and appreciative, giving him warm and sustained applause each time he mentioned his plans to run for re-election. Admirers, many of whom were wearing teal T-shirts emblazoned with gold letters that said, "Ecker, Howard County Executive '94," included Democrats as well as Republicans.

Mr. Ecker was a lifelong Democrat until he joined the Republican Party shortly before the 1990 election. He includes many Democrats on his staff, much to the chagrin of the GOP faithful.

"I still think I am a Republican," Mr. Ecker said, "but not as far to one side as some Republicans. Local government is too important to get tied up in partisan issues."

Rather than talk about specifics for the next term, Mr. Ecker pointed to what he said are his guiding principles. They are to "provide what is best not only for tomorrow, but 10, 15, and 20 years from now," and to preside over an administration that is open, fair, honest and predictable.

Standing on a step ladder and reading from a prepared text, Mr. Ecker told supporters that his administration had turned a $23 million deficit into a $12 million surplus in three years. "Whatever we accomplished has been a team effort," he said. "Together, we did it. I'm very proud." Although the country appears to be coming out of the recession, county government still needs to exercise fiscal restraint, Mr. Ecker said. "I have shown we can do it," he said.

Serving as county executive the past four years has been "a wonderful experience -- very rewarding," he told admirers. His fondest experience, he said, has been meeting "all the wonderful people and the businesses . . . that make this a great place to live."

He said he will continue to make the education, health and safety of county residents his primary concern.

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