Cook to run against Gray Republican candidate faces 'uphill battle' for County Council

Quayle appears at dinner

March 17, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Republican Susan J. Cook, a former school board chairwoman, says she will challenge Democratic incumbent C. Vernon Gray in the race for the Howard County Council seat representing east Columbia.

Local Republican Party leaders introduced Cook as a candidate Sunday at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner, a $40-a-plate affair at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City.

"She comes to the race with a lot more name recognition than most," said Carol Arscott, a former Howard GOP chairwoman and consultant for Cook. "For the first time, we have a strong candidate in this race."

Former Vice President Dan Quayle was an unexpected speaker Sunday night, appearing before the estimated 300 people at the event after attending a fund-raiser for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey in Montgomery County.

Facing an incumbent in a County Council race is always considered a difficult task, but Cook's name recognition from six years on the county school board may give Republicans their best chance in years to win a seat in east Columbia, where Democrats enjoy a strong advantage in registration.

Republican Kirk Halpin, a 30-year-old attorney, announced Sunday that he will run for council in the North Laurel district, which extends into Columbia. Wanda Hurt, a Columbia Council member, and Guy Guzzone, a member of the Kings Contrivance Village Board, are running for the Democratic nomination. The seat is open because Republican Councilman Dennis Schrader is running for executive.

Columbia pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research says it would be an upset if Cook unseats Gray, who has held the east Columbia seat for 16 years.

"The district is decidedly Democrat, so it will be an uphill battle for Susan to beat Vernon," he said. "She is probably the toughest opponent he has faced. She brings to the table more than anybody else he has ever run against."

Gray easily handled his Republican opponent in 1994, chalking up 59 percent of the vote against Evelyn Tanner, a former chairwoman of the Board of Appeals.

Cook, who is managing editor at The Business Monthly, has served as president of PTAs at Oakland Mills High, Owen Brown Middle and Dasher Green Elementary schools. She left the school board in December 1996. Cook plans to announce her candidacy formally April 26.

In her 1990 school board race, Cook beat Sandra H. French, a board member who was considered the favorite. She chaired the school board for two years.

"I believe I have proven leadership skills," Cook said. "I am well aware I am the underdog, and I will have to work extremely hard in this race. I worked extremely hard in the school board race [in 1990], and I don't mind hard work."

Howard GOP Chairman Louis Pope said Cook's education background in a county where voters have strong concerns about the quality of schools will help her overcome the incumbent.

"She's previously won a countywide race [for school board], so she's well known and she's very well respected," Pope said. "[Howard County Republicans] see Vernon Gray as being vulnerable if a strong contender came into play, and we see Susan Cook as a strong contender."

Republican state Sen. Martin G. Madden added: "Susan faces an uphill battle, but she's certainly a qualified candidate. Given her background, she will attract parents with children because she has been directly involved in the maintenance of our schools."

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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