Ex-police chief opens bid for executive nomination Just retired, Robey seeks Democratic nod dTC

January 14, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Four days after he retired as Howard County police chief, James N. Robey formally announced yesterday his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for county executive.

"When I took the oath of office to be the chief of police in Howard County, it meant a lot to me," Robey told a crowd at Ellicott City's Roger Carter Neighborhood Center -- where he was sworn in as a rookie officer 31 years ago. "The oath of office that I take as the next county executive will mean even more."

Robey, who retired Friday after seven years as police chief, is expected to run unopposed in the September primary. His opponent in the November general election will likely be Charles C. Feaga or Dennis R. Schrader, both members of the Howard County Council who have announced their candidacies for the Republican nomination.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a member of the Owen Brown Village Board, applauded Robey's decision.

"He has a proven track record of working in the county and communicating with the residents of this county," Atkinson-Stewart said.

The announcement was the finale of months of speculation -- confirmed a month ago -- that Robey wants to succeed his boss and friend, Charles I. Ecker, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

Robey, who turns 57 on Sunday, told the audience that he had resisted any thoughts of running until two members of the police chief's Citizens Advisory Committee insisted that he consider it.

Native of county

"It was something that I never gave a thought to six, seven months ago," said the Howard County native, who grew up in Daniels on the banks of the Patapsco River. "But I knew that I wouldn't be police chief forever, and I knew that I did not want to leave public service."

Yesterday, Robey demonstrated a playful side normally stifled by his position as chief of the county's force of 328 officers.

"This is the first time when I've walked into a room where no one called for attention and people stood up," Robey said, touching off a wave of laughter.

"I guess I'll have to get used to that."

Robey addressed several issues that he characterized as being "significant" to the county's future.

He said dealing with development will be the top concern in his campaign. He acknowledged that residential growth is inevitable a prediction that will not please everyone.

"It's not about 'I've got a 3-acre lot, and no one else can move in here,' " Robey said. "It has to be what's good for the county. That can and will happen."

Education an issue

Robey listed public education and safety as other leading issues of his campaign. He pledged to work with the school board to address problems in schools and to work with communities to protect their neighborhoods.

Republicans are expected to focus on Robey's lack of political experience in an attempt to keep the county executive's seat in their party.

"He's not a bad candidate," said Allan Kittleman, former chairman of the Republican Party's central committee, who is a candidate for County Council in western Howard.

"But I don't think he's a politician, and he doesn't have that experience needed to campaign."

But Donald F. Norris, professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, pointed out that several big-city police chiefs -- notably Mayors Lee Brown of Houston and Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia -- have successfully captured political seats.

"My guess is that in the current political climate, a police chief tough on crime and progressive on other issues would have an advantage," Norris said. "He's going to take some of the Republican issues away."

Turner supports bid

And state Del. Frank Turner, an east Columbia Democrat who supports Robey's bid, noted that a certain Republican candidate for county executive in 1990 also was disregarded because of his lack of political experience.

"Chuck Ecker was elected, and most people think he has done a good job," Turner said of the retired school executive turned politician. "Why can't that happen to Jim, too?"

County Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a Democrat from west Columbia, said she's looking forward to the general election.

"This is such a boost to the party and our expectations for the executive's seat," she said. "I'm ready to go right now."

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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