Still Bitter in the 'Burbs

September 15, 1994

Four years ago, fiscal conservatives were swept into county government all around Baltimore in an election that repudiated the more activist, service-oriented, freer-spending regimes that had grown along with the suburbs.

Roger Hayden in Baltimore County, Robert Neall in Anne Arundel County, Charles Ecker in Howard County and Eileen Rehrmann in Harford County and the three Carroll County commissioners were seen as having the personalities of accountants in eyeshades -- and that's just what voters said they wanted in their public administrators.

Following Tuesday's primary, however, the incumbents up for re-election could soon be on the receiving end of constituent anger.

In Howard County, Democrat Susan B. Gray capitalized on voter disenchantment with rapid development and pulled an upset. Her anti-growth crusade portrays the Republican incumbent, Mr. Ecker, as pro-growth.

Like Ms. Gray, another gritty, anti-growth candidate is Richard Yates in Carroll County, who topped the Republican slate for the three commissioner seats. A measure of voter rancor can be seen in juxtaposing Mr. Yates' bitter pitch with Democrat Neil Ridgely, whose cerebral appeal to better land planning flopped. Rebecca Orenstein, a Westminster city councilwoman, also tapped the anti-growth sentiment to lead Democratic candidates. The two incumbent commissioners up for re-election, Republican Donald Dell and Democrat Elmer Lippy, are among the party nominees for November, but they hardly won handily.

In Anne Arundel County, Democrat Del. Theodore Sophocleus coasted to a surprisingly easy win. His chief Democratic rival, former Lighthizer aide Robert Agee, was unable to tap voter disgust with Mr. Sophocleus' role in the county's pension controversy. Republican nominee John Gary hopes to beat him by tapping voter anger over crime.

In Baltimore County, Democratic nominee C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III rolled up an impressive primary win -- far larger than had been expected. Now he is hoping that constituents are fed up with the Hayden administration's service reductions, even though voters demanded them four years ago.

Similarly in Harford County, where voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum in 1992 creating a transfer tax for school construction and farm preservation, Republican nominee Ronald Szczybor thinks that voters have short memories and is trying to tar Democratic executive Eileen Rehrmann with the new tax.

One thing voters didn't do Tuesday was lash out directly at incumbents. Yet there was enough discontent bubbling to the surface to put the region's executives on notice that in this era of cynicism it may not be a plus to hold office at election time.

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