Former Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Sue-Ellen Hantman scheduled a news conference for noon today in Ellicott City to announce that she plans to challenge Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker in the election this fall.
"I haven't been happy with what's going on," Ms. Hantman said Friday. "We've been treading water, keeping the lid on, making sure that taxes don't go up and business is happy."
Mr. Ecker and Republicans have exaggerated the role that Democrats played in the economic crisis the county suffered shortly after Mr. Ecker took office, Ms. Hantman said.
The fact that the county has emerged from a $20-million budget shortage so quickly is a testament to the solid base Mr. Ecker inherited, she said.
Ms. Hantman, who will make her announcement at the county office building, said she decided to enter the race because of dTC what she called a lack of leadership. "We're dealing with problems as if there are only two solutions," she said. "Increase services and raise taxes or cut services and reduce taxes."
What is needed instead, she said, is an ability to solve problems in "innovative ways," -- something she said she would bring to the job.
Ms. Hantman pointed to the county school system as an example of an institution that, despite its reputation as one of the best in the country, still can be better.
"We need to look beyond [Scholastic Aptitude Test] scores," she said. "That leaves out a large group of students who will not be going to college. We are not training our noncollege bound students for skilled jobs. I don't want to see industry leaving the country."
The way to keep industry and prepare students for skilled labor, Ms. Hantman said, is for business to work with the schools to develop apprenticeship programs that would train students on the job. "The countries we are competing with are doing that," she said. "We are not."
Ms. Hantman, who spent five years as a prosecutor in the juvenile division of the state's attorney's office, said the correctional system needs fixing also.
Young criminals become addicted to drugs and alcohol and turn to crime because they haven't learned any skills and don't believe they can change their environment, she said. They return to prison, she said, because they are not taught skills and alternatives to violence. Howard County needs to provide those skills and alternatives, she said.
Turning to business, Ms. Hantman said she would like to put an end to what she sees as an enmity between business and residents concerned about the environment. "We don't need a business vs. the rest of us mentality," she said. "We need to recognize that economic development is important for all of us. We can attract business and still protect the environment. It doesn't have to be either . . or."
Some local Democrats said Ms. Hantman's entrance into the race would help the entire ticket.
"Sue-Ellen is a strong candidate for county executive," said Democrat Charles Acquard, who is running for the County Council seat held by Democrat Shane Pendergrass of the 1st District. "She keeps Chuck [Ecker] worrying about his own re-election and not the election of Republican candidates for County Council."
Kathryn Mann, who is challenging Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray of the 3rd District in the Democratic primary, said Ms. Hantman "is a person of principle who has been just everywhere. She will run a very candid race and is going to bring a lot of attention to issues that need to be talked about. That will be helpful to her campaign and everybody else's."
A Brooklyn, N.Y., native who grew up in Long Island, Ms. Hantman attended Brandeis University before graduating cum laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a degree in sociology in 1966.
That fall, she entered law school at the Newark, N.J., campus of Rutgers University and graduated in 1969.
She was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1971 and then moved to Columbia with her husband, Jerome, in 1973. She was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1979.
Her entrance into the race two weeks before the filing deadline is not a handicap, Ms. Hantman said.
"I was taught as a child to be all that I could be -- to leave the world a better place," she said. "In 21 years [in Howard County], I've never not been involved." She has served as a prosecutor, a member of the planning board and on various social service agencies.