Gelfman, Leasure apparently elected to bench in Howard incumbents stay on Carroll board

First black jurist appears to be ousted in bitter judicial contest

November 06, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

After one of the nastiest judicial races in Maryland history, Howard County voters likely elected judges Lenore R. Gelfman and Diane O. Leasure to the Circuit Court bench yesterday -- and rejected Howard's first black judge, Donna Hill Staton.

Fewer than 2,000 votes separated the top three of the four candidates vying for two 15-year judgeships -- with all but 5,500 absentee ballots counted last night.

If the results hold, they are at least a partial rebuke of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who appointed Leasure and Hill Staton the Circuit Court's first women judges a year ago -- in part to diversify the bench.

In the race for Carroll County school board, incumbents Ann M. Ballard and Joseph D. Mish Jr. turned back two conservative challengers last night by a ratio of nearly 2-1, despite an aggressive and well-funded opposition campaign.

In the Howard judicial race, Carol Arscott, campaign consultant for Leasure and Hill Staton and a former chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee in Howard, said the election turned on race.

"It wasn't a slap at Glendening because Diane [Leasure] came in first, and she was tied closest to Glendening," Arscott said. "It wasn't crime because Diane was attacked hardest on that. And [Ellicott City attorney Jonathan Scott] Smith came in dead last."

"The only thing left is race," she added. "I'm ashamed for the county."

Hill Staton refused to concede the election last night, saying the absentee ballots may yet give her victory.

Defiantly noting her role as the county's first black judge even as she faced losing the bench, she said: "No matter what the results are, we can't change history."

The election also may have turned on the enormous name recognition that Gelfman enjoys thanks to seven years on the District Court and her celebrity husband, WJZ-TV consumer affairs reporter Dick Gelfman, who has been on Baltimore television for more than 18 years.

"The people have spoken, and I'm grateful for the people's support," Lenore Gelfman said at campaign headquarters on Route 108 in Columbia.

The close vote was a fitting end to a sprawling, expensive, nasty epic of a campaign that focused on race, crime and Glendening as much as it did the future of Howard's judiciary.

The battle began a year ago, when Glendening appointed Leasure and Hill Staton for two seats.

Gelfman and Smith, a Democrat and a Republican passed over by the governor for those seats, entered the race almost immediately, accusing Glendening of rewarding political friends and putting his quest for diversity above qualifications.

The two sides have traded sharply worded -- in many cases misleading -- campaign literature and television ads, liberally spending $360,000 raised by both campaigns as of the last campaign finance report on Oct. 25.

In the Carroll County school board race, candidates William M. Bowen Jr. and Jerry L. Brunst had accused the school board of wasting a generously funded budget on high administrative salaries and spending.

Brunst declined to comment last night.

"I refuse to talk to the liberal Baltimore Sun," he said as he left the party held by Carroll Republicans last night.

Said Bowen: "The people deserve exactly what they get in this election. Welcome to the next tax increase. The taxpayers have been betrayed in Carroll County."

In their respective campaigns, Mish -- a retired Carroll social studies teacher -- and Ballard -- a Mount Airy homemaker -- disputed Bowen and Brunst's claims by touting Carroll schools' statewide standing in the top three for performance and bottom third for spending.

In the Howard County school board race, Jane Schuchardt appeared to narrowly defeat Francine Wishnick yesterday in the election.

Schuchardt, 59, a retired Howard teacher, held almost a 3,800-vote lead over Wishnick, 44, a community activist, not DTC including 5,500 absentee ballots yet to be counted that make it mathematically possible for Wishnick to win.

During the campaign, Schuchardt attracted attention with her belief that Howard biology students ought to be at least exposed to creationism as an alternate explanation to evolution. That differs from the Howard curriculum, school officials say, but Schuchardt says it is in line with how evolution and creationism are taught in several Howard textbooks.

Schuchardt succeeds board member Susan Cook.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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