Races for County Council president and sheriff dominated Harford County's political landscape yesterday as scores of candidates pitted new blood against experience in the primary election battle for nominations to state and local offices.
Some election officials predicted about a 40 percent turnout among the county's 86,874 registered Democrats and Republicans.
The race for County Council president race typified Harford's long struggle to manage rapid growth.
In the Democratic primary, council veteran Theresa M. Pierno, who supports managed growth and more citizen involvement in planning, faced businessman and veteran politician Arthur Henry Helton, who says growth should not be constrained if it means more jobs and a bigger tax base.
Mr. Helton, who said he was not a "rampant, pro-growth candidate," was campaigning until the last minute. He voted when polls opened at 7 a.m. at Churchville Elementary and was at Jarrettsville Elementary, in an area with a heavy Democratic population, by 7:30 a.m. to do his final campaigning.
In the sheriff's race, incumbent Democrat Robert E. Comes struggled to keep his post in the face of more than two years of controversy. He faced three Democratic challengers: former Sheriff Dominick J. Mele, former jail warden E. Dale Zepp and newcomer George W. Cunningham.
Rita A. Dather, administrator of the Harford Board of Supervisors Elections, said county's new computerized balloting system seemed to work well.
In the Bel Air High School cafeteria, poll worker Elaine Dryden had her hands full. "Let me help this kid with a drink. We get all kinds of duties here," she told a visitor.
Ms. Dryden, who has been involved with the election board for 15 years, said the day had gone smoothly. In addition to the 575 voters who had cast their ballots by 5 p.m. yesterday, a group of 16 Russians had visited, she said.
"They were concerned about secrecy," the poll worker said. "They wanted to know if it can be loaded."
She was referring to the computerized voting apparatus where voters submit their completed ballots.
"Thank goodness, they had an interpreter," Ms. Dryden said.
At Prospect Mill Elementary in Bel Air, where voting also is usually heavy, some voters said they were against more uncontrolled growth. One man said he voted against every candidate a developer friend advocated.
Arley Swank, a 92-year-old woman from Madonna who said she has never missed an election, came to Jarrettsville Elementary to support American Joe Medusiewski for governor and Del. Gerry Brewster for the 2nd District congressional seat. She had no local favorites.
Contests for three of the six County Council seats were heated, as candidates vied to fill vacancies left by District B Republican Councilwoman Joanne Parrott and Mrs. Pierno, and for the District A seat held by Susan B. Heselton, who ran a low-key campaign.
The Republican race to unseat Mrs. Heselton pitted former council candidate James Dee Haney against first-time candidate John A. Myrick. Mr. Haney lost in District F as a Democrat in 1990. That was before redistricting and before the election of President Clinton, which prompted Mr. Haney to switch parties.
The Democratic race in District A was between two young newcomers, Thomas J. Eser III, a firefighter, and Habern Dean Freeman, son of state Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr. It was expected to be close.
In District B, the vacancy left by Mrs. Parrott enticed six Republicans into the race, but the tighter contest was expected to be on the Democratic front. There, Joyce B. Eaton was opposed by Edgewood businessman Charles L. Brockmeyer, a longtime critic of the government.
In District C, which includes the heavily populated Bel Air area, two Democrats and two Republicans were seeking Mrs. Pierno's seat. The race between Pierno ally H. Edward Andrews III and John F. Haggerty, hand-picked by Democratic County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, was expected to be close.
On the Republican side, businessman Mark Decker, with five years' experience as a Bel Air town commissioner, seemed to hold a slight advantage over Christopher O'Shea, a certified public accountant.
Incumbent Democrats Rose Mary Hatem Bonsack and Mary Louise Preis faced four other Democrats in the primary, Havre de Grace Mayor Gunther Hirsch and well-known Edgewood activist B. Daniel Riley among them. Four Republicans, including conservative activist Nancy Jacobs, were seeking nominations.
Republicans Gwendalynne Corkran and Ruth James were running for the District 35 Senate seat with the goal of unseating longtime Democratic incumbent William H. Amoss.