Gray, Lorsung will run again Council Democrats hope party will regain power from GOP

November 06, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Columbia Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Mary C. Lorsung announced last night they would seek re-election to the Howard County Council, giving their party its best shot at regaining some of the power lost in recent elections to the GOP.

The decision pleased Democratic leaders, who have a secure base in the battle to wrest control of the five-member council from Republicans. None of the three GOP council members plans to run for re-election.

"Makes me sleep pretty good," said Howard Democratic Chairwoman Carole Fisher.

Gray, who had considered running for county executive, announced his decision at a fund-raising gala commemorating his 15 years in office with songs, poetry, a slide show and rousing testimonials from political luminaries.

Several hundred supporters attended the event, which cost $75 a person, at Spear Center in the Rouse Co. headquarters in Columbia.

Meanwhile, Lorsung revealed her decision to those who asked yesterday -- the day after she met with a group of close advisers who urged her to run.

"I'm going to run," she said standing in the shadows as an hourlong, multimedia show highlighting Gray's career unfolded at the front of the room.

A few minutes later, Gray told the crowd similar news. After seriously weighing a bid for county executive, he decided "I could best serve as a councilman for another four years."

The decisions leave Democrats well-prepared in the battle for County Council, but they are without a candidate for county executive.

Police Chief James N. Robey, the man whom many party leaders hope would run, was also at Gray's event last night, meeting and greeting even though he remains undecided on whether to become a candidate.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, and Robey have agreed that he must refrain from political activity as long as he remains police chief. Robey declined an invitation to speak at Gray's fund-raiser.

Robey's decision about running for county executive is complicated by a pending settlement between Ecker and the police union that could give all police, including Robey, an improved retirement package come March.

Yesterday, the county and union discussed a package that would increase retirement payments for police staying 25 years or longer.

Officers such as Robey, with 30 or more years on the force, would receive 65 percent of their salaries each year for the rest of their lives -- compared with 60 percent under the current plan.

For Robey, who makes $98,719 a year, that would mean nearly $5,000 a year more in pension benefits. But the new retirement package cannot take effect until March. Robey said he will decide on his candidacy by the end of the year.

"If that's the way it has to be, that's the way it has to be," Robey said.

Gray faced a difficult decision of his own.

After 15 years on the council, he had the credentials, fund-raising might and political network to make a serious bid for county executive.

Attending his event last night were U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and many of Howard's most powerful Democratic political figures.

But Gray is also vice president of the National Association of Counties, a lobbying group for which he hobnobs with officials from Washington to Beijing. His power will only grow as he ascends a chain of leadership that makes him president of the group in 1999.

The only requirement is that Gray remain a county official. Had he run for county executive and lost, he would have lost his job with the national counties' group as well.

By comparison, running for re-election to his council seat is a safe bet, though Republican Susan Cook, a former school board chairwoman, is seriously considering challenging him.

"Were I to run for county executive, as has been speculated, I could win," Gray told the crowd last night. "But I've also just been elected vice president of the National Association of Counties. In 1999, I will be president."

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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