GOP race for top is on Schrader to run for county executive, faces Feaga in primary

Party split forecast

Councilman promises to slow growth, repeal trash tax

March 20, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

An article in Friday's Howard County edition of The Sun misreported the amount that County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader has raised for his county executive campaign. The correct amount is $110,000.

The Sun regrets the error.

Howard County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader formally entered the race for county executive last night, promising to cut taxes, moderate growth and improve a school system already considered the best in the state.

Schrader, 45, an ambitious engineer who lives in Columbia's Kings Contrivance village, is battling veteran Councilman Charles C. Feaga, 65, in what could be the most hotly contested primary election in the history of Howard's Republican Party.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The winner of September's primary election will take on Democrat James N. Robey, a retired Howard police chief, in November. Robey faces no primary opposition.

In Schrader's announcement at Savage Mill last night, he displayed his trademark focus and organizational skills at an event that drew more than 300 supporters at $35 a ticket. The campaign already has $160,000 of the $300,000 he hopes to raise, say officials.

He rarely strayed from his text as he outlined his campaign platform.

"Better managing our growth will be my top priority because it will ultimately determine our ability to maintain our high quality of life and provide excellence in local services from education to infrastructure," he said.

He also renewed his call to eliminate the $125 trash tax imposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker in 1996. His effort to repeal the tax failed in the County Council, in part because of the opposition of Feaga.

"We didn't do it this year," he said, "but if you elect me county executive, we'll get it done in 1999."

Both issues are key to Schrader's campaign because they distinguish him from Feaga, a West Friendship farmer and lifelong Howard resident who is considered among the founders of the county Republican Party.

Feaga is well-liked by party activists, but his campaign has made little noise since it formally began last June. He also is pro-growth in a county increasingly wary of the pressures new residents put on schools, roads and other services.

In a key vote last month, Schrader opposed the Rouse Co.'s plans to build a 522-acre Columbia-style project in North Laurel, which he represents on the County Council. Feaga supported the project, which was approved, 3-2.

The trash tax vote also gives Schrader a credential as a tax cutter, stealing an issue from Feaga, who has built his career on fiscal stinginess.

But Schrader has strained relations with some members of his own party, who recall his support in a 1996 election for two judges appointed by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The race was supposedly nonpartisan but ended up splitting party leaders in a divisive struggle.

Relatively few of Howard's top GOP elected officials attended last night's event. State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, State's Attorney Marna McLendon and the wife of state Sen. Martin G. Madden attended. The rest skipped it.

McCabe, who has not endorsed either candidate, said some of the local delegates couldn't make the event because of the General Assembly session in Annapolis, but other party leaders already see signs of a renewed split among the Howard GOP.

Schrader, who is much like the white-collar suburbanites who have flocked to Howard the past couple of decades, will rely heavily on his resume and modern campaign tactics such as polling and paid consultants, which Feaga shuns.

Schrader is an engineer, an officer in the Naval Reserve and vice president for facilities, management and development at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore.

Feaga, by contrast, is a farmer with no formal education beyond high school and often speaks bluntly on controversial issues. He has 12 years of County Council experience compared with Schrader's four.

"We have two outstanding candidates," McCabe said last night. "Dennis is kind of a strategic thinker and doer, and does things kind of methodically."

Nearly 20 years ago, on Schrader's first date with his wife, Sandy, he revealed one of his life's goals -- to be president of the United States.

His rivals sometimes tell that story -- a true one, according to Sandy Schrader -- to suggest that he's too ambitious and calculating for their taste.

But to supporters it's evidence of the determination and penchant for long-term planning needed in a county executive.

After his speech last night, a supporter who rushed up to hug Schrader suggested that he some day run for governor.

"One thing at a time," he said, laughing.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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