Farragut's exit boosts GOP's hopes

May 15, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

It is a Democratic Party axiom that the winner of the primary for the West Columbia seat on the County Council will sit in that seat for the next four years.

With a ratio of more than two Democrats to every Republican among registered voters in the district, it is almost a GOP axiom as well.

But Democrat Paul R. Farragut's surprise announcement Wednesday night that he will not seek re-election in the 4th District may have changed that -- at least a little -- for Republicans.

"We're much more interested than before," said Allan H. Kittleman, chairman of the local Republican Central Committee. "I have talked to numerous people, and we are sure to have at least one, if not two, strong candidates in the primary."

Republicans perceived Mr. Farragut as so strong in his district that hardly anyone was willing to run against him, Mr. Kittleman said. Now, Republicans should be able to field candidates of such caliber that they will "help everybody" running on the Republican ticket this fall, he said.

When Ruth U. Keeton stepped down from the council in 1989, nearly a dozen Democrats, including Mr. Farragut, sought to replace her. Democrats have no idea whether there will be a similar rush this time, in part, because of Mr. Farragut's suggestion that Mary Catherine Lorsung, his administrative assistant, succeed him.

"I don't think an elected official can handpick a successor, but I do think there are good reasons for suggesting Mary as an excellent replacement for him," said Sue-Ellen Hantman, former chairwoman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

Ms. Lorsung, 56, has a resume that would be the envy of many a candidate.

A 25-year resident of Columbia, she is well-known in West Columbia. She is a founding board member of the Columbia Forum, the Columbia Archives and the AIDS Alliance of Howard County. She also served for two years as president of the Association of Community Services and is on the board of the Columbia Pro Cantare chorus.

In addition to serving as a volunteer in those organizations, she also was village manager for the Village of Hickory Ridge and a legislative assistant to Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a District 13A Democrat, before going to work for Mr. Farragut in 1989.

"To my mind, she has been so involved so long that a lot of people would support her," Ms. Hantman said. "Nobody exceeds her qualifications. A lot of those people [who have known Ms. Lorsung through the years] may not be as political as they once were, but they still live here and still vote here. They would be there in an election."

Carole Fisher, chairwoman of the local Democratic Central Committee, who did not learn of Mr. Farragut's decision until 3 p.m. Wednesday, said it is too soon to say how much interest there will be in competing for his seat.

The party is "off to a good start" with the potential candidacy of Ms. Lorsung, Ms. Fisher said.

"I would be thrilled to see a woman [fill that vacancy], and I trust Paul's judgment. [Ms. Lorsung] certainly has a lot of experience going in," she said.

Ms. Lorsung said she has not decided whether to run and that she will be talking with people about that possibility over the next few days.

"From my perspective, the shorter the time frame the better," she said. "There is no advantage in dragging it out. I need feedback, not only on my potential for the council seat, but on what other possibilities are out there" in terms of other employment. Mr. Farragut's term ends Dec. 5.

"The decision at a minimum relates to a four-year amount of time," she said. "You don't say, 'Gosh, that really is a lot of night meetings' or 'Who do you think you are, calling me that? I'm out of here.' "

Ms. Hantman said the council job, although billed as part time, is so demanding that it may limit the number of candidates. "All [council members] either had no job or very, very flexible jobs," she said.

Mr. Farragut said in his resignation announcement that he was stepping down to spend more time with his children and to devote more time to his job at the port of Baltimore.

"I am also taking care of an elderly parent and trying to get my personal life back on course, which is difficult with a schedule which often involves working 12 to 14 hours days," he said.

Ms. Lorsung is no stranger to that kind of schedule, having

attended meetings two nights a week in addition to her volunteer schedule when she was village manager.

"I have been extremely fortunate in my working life to have had terrific mentors, starting with Linda Wolf as village manager, Mike Riemer as village board chairman, Ginny Thomas in Annapolis and Paul," she said.

Asked about issues facing the county, Ms. Lorsung warned against putting too much emphasis on any one problem. "The whole growth-management environmental issue, affordable housing, education and public safety -- those are the issues that are going to be there," she said.

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