Hickman loses bid for 6th term PRIMARY 1994

September 15, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman got slightly more absentee votes than his Republican rival, Jerry F. Barnes, but still lost his bid for a sixth term yesterday.

Mr. Barnes, who as a Democrat lost to Mr. Hickman four years ago by a margin of less than 2 percent, finished ahead yesterday by only 172 votes. More than 12,600 votes were cast in the primary.

The candidates, who were 192 votes apart at the end of balloting Tuesday night, waited through most of yesterday until elections officials counted the 382 Republican absentee ballots.

Mr. Hickman, who has been the county's top prosecutor since 1974, did not rule out a political comeback in the form of a write-in campaign in November's election.

Speaking from home last night, he said, "My campaign team is considering that in the general election." Mr. Hickman said he would have an announcement "around Tuesday" about his political future.

Mr. Barnes was quietly pleased when told of the results last night. "I'm so grateful to everybody, especially my family," he said. Mr. Barnes was a 13-year veteran of Mr. Hickman's office when he left in 1990 to take on his former boss.

Yesterday, Mr. Barnes praised the incumbent's energy in the job.

"I feel very sorry for him," he said. "I certainly don't dislike the man. For many years, he poured his life and soul into that office."

Mr. Hickman has known no other job since he was elected the county's top prosecutor in 1974 at the age of 27. He has stressed the prosecution of drunken drivers, child abusers and those involved in the drug trade.

Unlike 1990, the two waged a relatively restrained campaign this time around. Mr. Barnes criticized the county's drug task force and the state's attorney's recent string of appellate court reversals on felony convictions.

Tuesday night, Mr. Hickman charged that his rival was "bought" by Carroll defense attorneys. Campaign finance records show that several Westminster defense attorneys contributed $1,000 each to Mr. Barnes' $24,000 campaign war chest.

"Obviously, they don't contribute to a candidate who is going to be hard-nosed with them, like we are," Mr. Hickman said on primary night.

Mr. Barnes dismissed the assertion, saying defense attorneys -- like any citizens -- have the right to support political candidates.

"I'm one of the most hard-nosed prosecutors around," he said.

Mr. Barnes still must face Democratic candidate Linda A. Holmes in the November general election. Political observers say Mr. Barnes, a Frederick assistant state's attorney, should have no problem beating the political neophyte.

Ms. Holmes, a Westminster attorney who has never tried a criminal case before a jury, is running on a platform of change and managerialaccountability.

Mr. Barnes said yesterday that should Carroll voters choose him as their chief prosecutor, he would make some immediate changes in the $1.3 million-a-year office.

The first change, he said, would be to revamp the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force. The task force has been under fire for almost two years amid a tumultuous county audit. Although the audit, released last month, revealed no financial improprieties, it sharply criticized the way the drug group handles the seizing and forfeiture of property from drug suspects.

Mr. Barnes said he would personally oversee the task force, replacing Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, hired in 1990 by Mr. Hickman to run the task force.

"I'm going to take over the operations, I'm going to try the cases," Mr. Barnes said.

He said he also would appoint another prosecutor to handle the civil forfeiture process. "That way, we keep the civil and criminal processes separate. There is an ethical reason not to co-mingle the two."

Mr. Barnes has been the head of the Frederick County Narcotics Task Force for two years.

The candidate also said he intends to do a thorough review of the office's budget and reassess its priorities. But, he insisted, he will not engage in a "slash and burn" style of leadership.

"Most of the employees in his office are in shock," Mr. Barnes said, "and the No. 1 reason for that is that they've been brainwashed into thinking they're all going to be fired. That's simply not true. Many of these people have been my friends."

He said that while some attorneys would need to "learn a new focus," many of them could have a place in a Barnes-led office.

Some of Mr. Hickman's most recognized -- and lauded -- programs will be maintained, in some form or another, Mr. Barnes said.

He called the 2-year-old Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit -- which includes investigators from the state police and the state's attorney's office -- "a great concept."

He also would seek to expand the office's Victim Witness Coordination program.

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