Ecker On The Run

Governor's Race: Like His First Campaign In Howard, He Would Run As Gop Underdog.

April 24, 1997

NOTHING'S DEFINITE, but it appears that Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is serious about making the Republican gubernatorial primary a real race. There are reasons enough for him not to run. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the former delegate from Baltimore County who narrowly lost to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1994, has more statewide name recognition, more money, a staff, solid support in Mr. Ecker's own home base and GOP connections across the country.

None of that might matter when you consider the reason he should run: Determination.

You can't always tell by looking at Mr. Ecker that there's "fire in the belly," but it's there, just as it was seven years ago when he played the part of David to defeat an incumbent Goliath to become county executive.

He was an unknown then, working in a low-profile job as associate superintendent in the county school system when Republicans persuaded the reformed Democrat to challenge incumbent Elizabeth Bobo.

Political gurus found it almost laughable, but he slowly gained momentum as the election campaign rolled along, impressing voters with his aw-shucks, I'm-not-an-insider style.

Mr. Ecker is convinced that he can repeat his performance on a stage that is 25 times larger than the one he played on seven years ago.

As county executive, he has done a reasonable, Eisenhower-esque job of stewardship. He has managed sprawl-stressed budgets, but growth has given Howard the state's highest per-capita debt. Taxes have not risen since his first year, but residents have had to pay new fees for recreation and trash disposal.

He has sought to make Howard County more business-friendly, but struggles to boost the commercial tax base near his stated 25 percent goal. Some communities are feeling signs of wear, but quality of life remains very good.

Mr. Ecker would be a welcome counterbalance in a GOP primary to the more conservative Ms. Sauerbrey. Although he has sought to rein in government, he has spared social programs from drastic cuts. A race against Ms. Sauerbrey would be yet another battle for the soul of Maryland's Republican Party. Mr. Ecker must convince voters that the leader of Maryland's sixth largest jurisdiction in population can manage a state of 5 million people.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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