Primaries: Anything But Humdrum

July 21, 1994

What had figured to be a humdrum election season in Howard County, dominated by a seemingly invincible Republican county executive, could become anything but. A host of candidates has entered various races, producing primaries for 13 of 19 seats and portending a general election with spunk.

Democrat Sue-Ellen Hantman appears the front-runner to face off against Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Ms. Hantman's prior experience as head of the local Democratic Central Committee is likely to work in her favor because primaries tend to draw party regulars.

But her Democratic challenger, anti-growth activist Susan Gray, could be a wild card. Ms. Gray's entry showed signs of disarray when she filed to run at the 11th hour, culling her campaign treasurer from a nearby beauty parlor just minutes before the deadline. She called it an example of "can-do government." Ill-preparedness would be another description.

Elsewhere, three-term County Council incumbent C. Vernon Gray faces a challenge from former planning board chairwoman Kathrynn Mann. Ms.Mann scored an early blow against Mr. Gray by questioning whether he, as a member of the county Zoning Board, should vote on matters affecting the Laurel Race Course in light of an $8,000 bill track officials say he owes them for hosting a previous fund-raising event. Mr. Gray has tried to distance himself from the controversy, but Ms. Mann clearly has found vulnerabilities in Mr. Gray's well-known fund-raising armor.

In the race for the District 13 state Senate seat, incumbent Democrat Thomas M. Yeager faces a tough primary challenge from Del. Virginia M. Thomas. As the yin and yang of local politics, Ms. Thomas is cast as a feisty partisan, while Mr. Yeager is viewed as a mild-mannered consensus builder. Ms. Thomas has made considerable hay out of her claim that, among the county's delegates, she was able to garner the lion's share of the county's school construction funds this year.

Four years ago, anti-incumbency fever ran hot in local elections, resulting in the upset of County Executive Elizabeth Bobo by Mr. Ecker. A similar upset seems unlikely, but most would have made the same prediction about this time four years ago.

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