Baltimore County Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III easily won the Democratic nomination for Baltimore County executive last night with 54 percent of the vote in a four-way race.
The 48-year old former prosecutor claimed victory at 10:30 p.m., when he appeared before a cheering crowd of supporters at Overlea Hall in the 6800 block of Belair Road to lead the party's effort to retake the county's top elected office from Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden.
"This is all about taking back the county for the people," he said. "This is a grass-roots campaign to unify the county. No way we can lose in November."
Pikesville Councilman Melvin G. Mintz finished second with 30 percent of the vote but left his election-night headquarters just .. after midnight without conceding.
Mr. Mintz finally conceded at 1:25 a.m. "I'm surprised it wasn't closer than that," he said of the outcome, adding that he "hasn't given any thought" to whether he will support Mr. Ruppersberger in the general election and that he was "tired and disappointed," and probably would not attend today's County Council work session.
The third-place finisher, John C. Coolahan, a former senator and district judge, got 14 percent of the vote. He conceded early and offered Mr. Ruppersberger his support in the November general election.
Although he had two opponents in the GOP primary, Mr. Hayden had no trouble winning his party's nomination for a second term, finishing far ahead of Donald W. Brewer, a former county worker running a low-budget campaign from his Eastpoint home, and George Egbert of Aero Acres, who ran a no-budget campaign.
But Mr. Hayden's general election strategy of running together with Republican gubernatorial hopeful Helen D. Bentley, who is popular with Eastside Baltimore County Democrats, failed with Mrs. Bentley's surprise loss to Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
A sparse crowd of Mintz backers gathered at the Holiday Inn at the Baltimore Beltway and Cromwell Bridge Road. Mr. Mintz offered an early appearance at 9:45 p.m., made a few hopeful comments and retreated to a room to await the final tally.
Even at midnight, Mr. Mintz refused to concede. He thanked all his assembled workers, but then paused in a corner of the room, his head in his hands as someone massaged his shoulders.
In what appeared to be a low to moderate turnout, Mr. Ruppersberger took an early lead that did not shrink as the hours passed.
Mr. Coolahan, who ran for county executive and lost in 1978 and had been out of politics for five years while a judge, was the self-proclaimed dark horse from the beginning. Kevin Pearl, 28, a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, wasn't given much chance to win. He collected fewer than 2,000 votes.
Mr. Coolahan, a leader in the southwestern part of the county, raised only a tiny fraction of the money Mr. Ruppersberger and Mr. Mintz raised and didn't get the endorsements he needed from established Eastside politicians.
But he hoped that his endorsement of gubernatorial candidate American Joe Miedusiewski, an East Baltimore conservative, would attract enough Eastside votes to add to his own Catonsville-Arbutus-Halethorpe base to give him a victory.
At Arbutus Elementary School, where the candidate was politicking under a huge tree, Larry and Jean Carter voted for him. "He's local. I worked for him in District Court; he's a pretty fair guy," Mr. Carter said, as his wife nodded assent.
Mr. Mintz, who used his own and relatives' money to boost his campaign fund-raising total by $164,000, had hoped that the large base of Democratic voters in his Pikesville-Randallstown council district would give him an edge over Mr. Ruppersberger, who has a much larger Republican registration is his north county district.
Mr. Mintz had hoped to rack up huge majorities in his own district and respectable totals elsewhere, but the strategy failed.
By 5 p.m., roughly a third of those registered had voted at Pikesville High school, the core of Mr. Mintz's strength. Adrienne Blumberg said she voted for him because she has asked his County Council office for help several times and his aides not only responded but followed up.
Mr. Ruppersberger bet on his year of preparation and planning, endorsements by county workers unions, a centrist reputation and his fiscal conservatism.
His ability to get along with Republicans and Democrats won him political support among eastern county elected officials and Democratic clubs.
Dorothy Evans, 71, who voted at Catonsville High School, said she favored Mr. Ruppersberger. "I've been in his company for several hours andI liked what I heard," she said.
The candidates struggled in the face of voter apathy for much of the campaign, with little controversy and few emotional issues to draw attention to their campaigns. Numerous candidate forums failed to draw more than a handful of interested citizens.