20 county Democrats support Ecker

October 19, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Former state Senate President James Clark Jr. and 19 other county Democrats said yesterday that they are ignoring party loyalty and supporting Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker in his re-election bid.

"The time has arrived when the welfare of Howard County must take precedence over partisan politics," Mr. Clark said in a prepared statement drafted by leaders of a political action committee formed last week.

After telling his audience that his Ellicott City farm has been the site of "some pretty successful political announcements" in the past, Mr. Clark extolled Mr. Ecker as "the most suitable and experienced candidate on the ballot," who "in the face of the worst recession to hit Maryland in the last 50 years . . . enabled Howard County to weather this storm."

The problem with Democratic nominee Susan Gray is that "she does not adhere to our party's traditional values" and is waging a divisive campaign based on exclusion rather than inclusion, Mr. Clark said.

The formation of the Democrats for Ecker committee is a further indication of how splintered both local parties have become since the 1990 elections. Grudges formed in 1990 as a result of the Republican landslide continue to fester.

Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Carole Fisher says party members supporting Mr. Ecker are "misguided" but predicts that they will come together after the election.

Perhaps. But Democrats who believed that County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray was not helpful to them in 1990 are working for his Republican opponent, Evelyn Tanner. (Mr. Gray is not related to county executive candidate Ms. Gray.)

Republicans are also showing signs of strain. A group called Republicans for Susan Gray was formed recently in an attempt to defeat the incumbent.

The rhetoric is not subtle.

Republicans for Susan Gray call Mr. Ecker "a nice old man who has failed to demonstrate any backbone or character." The Democrats for Ecker group says that Ms. Gray's "single-issue theme of no growth divides rather than unites our communities along racial and economic lines."

Democratic notables

Although Republicans for Susan Gray does not include GOP notables, Democratic leaders in the fold of Democrats for Ecker include former County Executive William E. Eakle, former County Administrator Buddy Roogow and Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo.

Mr. Roogow, who was fired by Mr. Ecker before winning a position with Gov. William Donald Schaefer as the governor's director of operations, said that he helped organize the Ecker committee because he believes Ms. Gray holds values and priorities that are "not friendly" to Howard County.

"A lot of the people in the county don't know what Susan Gray stands for," he said.

"She is exclusionary. We are an inclusionary. We want to make things comfortable for everyone who lives here."

Mr. Ecker picked up on the exclusionary theme yesterday. "I don't want an elitist county," he said. "Thanks for standing up for me. . . . I am overwhelmed."

Ms. Gray said in a telephone interview that she has been aware of the Democrats for Ecker committee for some time and is not fretting about it.

Susan Gray's response

"This is typical of the powers that be -- trying to slap a no-growth label on me," she said.

"This isn't something that just popped up yesterday. It's the same old baloney. They know I'm for a slow, sustainable level of growth."

Ms. Gray said disenchanted Democrats had been planning to form an Ecker committee "for at least a month, pressuring, badgering people to jump on board . . . but person after person has turned them down."

Although Ms. Gray was not the choice of the Democratic rank and file -- they wanted former Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Sue-Ellen Hantman as their standard-bearer -- many now are joining hands with her.

Former County Councilman Lloyd Knowles said that although he supported Ms. Hantman in the primary, he and his wife, former County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo (a candidate for the District 12B House of Delegates seat), are supporting Ms. Gray.

Ms. Gray's campaign is "much broader than newspapers would indicate," Mr. Knowles said.

"She offers a lot more opportunity than [Mr. Ecker] for improving the quality of life in Howard County for both Democrats and Republicans," he said.

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