Schrader working to unite GOP Republicans focus on keeping control of local government

Party breakfast tomorrow

Robey aims to benefit from any dissension among his opponents

September 17, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

With the conclusion of a tough primary race that divided the Republican Party, executive nominee Dennis R. Schrader and GOP leaders are working to soothe hard feelings, reunite the party and focus on retaining control of county government in November.

Democratic candidate James N. Robey hopes to capitalize on any dissension within Republican ranks. But political observers believe that to defeat the moderate Schrader, Robey must more clearly define himself and give Democrats and independents a reason to vote for him.

Republicans hope to quell the potential drama of a party rift with a unity breakfast tomorrow, at which primary contenders Charles C. Feaga and Schrader are expected to meet again. Schrader was working the telephones yesterday, talking to party faithful such as Councilman Darrel E. Drown, an ardent Feaga supporter who left no doubt he would back Schrader.

"I've talked to Darrel today, and Darrel and I had a good conversation," Schrader said. "I'd rather not say who [else] I've talked to and when, because in some cases it's a little too early to call people, but let's just say that we're going to be having a lot of conversations."

Call to Feaga on hold

One person Schrader is likely waiting to call is Feaga, who has yet to endorse his primary rival.

Schrader attacked Feaga during the campaign as "the developers' friend," but Feaga's friends said yesterday they were confident he would back the Republican nominee.

With absentee ballots remaining to be counted, Schrader has won 52.5 percent of the vote in the primary, a margin of 705 votes out of nearly 14,000.

For months, Feaga supporters talked privately about forming a "Republicans for Robey" movement in the event of a Schrader victory, but it is unclear whether such a group would have more than a handful of members -- and whether it would form publicly.

One leading Republican friendly with Robey, Circuit Court Clerk Margaret Rappaport, elliptically remarked yesterday that she supports "Republican principles," and that Schrader seems to have Republican principles and Robey doesn't.

Robey, 57, the former police chief, said he had lunch yesterday with one Feaga Republican who told him, "I'm all yours."

Another Feaga supporter who is a Republican -- Orphans' Court candidate James R. "Pat" Patterson -- said yesterday he has decided to support Robey.

Patterson insists there are others.

GOP sentiment for Robey

"I think there's a lot of sentiment out there for Jim Robey," said Patterson, owner of PJ's restaurant, an Ellicott City hangout for Republican insiders.

"Probably none of them are going to tell you, but I'm running for a low-profile job, so I can get away with it," he added.

Drown acknowledged that some Republicans might go to Robey because they're friendly with him. He said Robey's years of public service not only won him friends but also gave him credibility as a candidate.

"Jim's roots are pretty deep in Howard County," Drown said. "This race is going to be as tight as [the Feaga-Schrader race]."

Political observers believe that Schrader starts the general election campaign with the upper hand. Schrader's primary win gives him momentum, and a Republican, Charles I. Ecker, has won the last two county executive races.

Perhaps most important, Schrader has honed his campaign message, particularly on the growth issue.

"Dennis won a very hard-fought victory, and now obviously the chief [Robey] is going to have to step up to the plate and define who he is," said Roger Caplan, a media consultant who has advised Ecker, including during his gubernatorial bid this year.

Robey has set himself apart from Schrader in key areas, but he has yet to outline a clear, detailed platform -- particularly in his advertising.

"Robey's going to have to take some strong stances on issues," said Robert S. Ardinger, adjunct professor of political science at Howard Community College.

"Everybody is in favor of education, and everybody's concerned about violence in schools, but I'd like to see more on that," Ardinger added.

The Democrat took a stand this year by criticizing the Republican-passed local income tax cut. He said he would consider reversing the tax cut, saying the county needs to better fund education.

He also said he wants to improve pay and benefits for police officers.

Robey has left some wiggle room on two issues that Schrader has made twin centerpieces of his campaign -- growth and the $125-a-household trash fee.

He has said he would like to eliminate the trash fee, as Schrader has proposed, but he wants to ensure that it can be done without harming education and other services.

On development, Robey is running a television advertisement in which he talks generally about the need for balance in managing growth, comparing it to walking a tightrope.

He has also said he is open to tightening the public facilities ordinance that helps govern the pace of growth, but he has not said how this might be achieved.

Robey said he believes that he has been as specific on these issues as Schrader has.

"I talk about managing growth, I talk about education, I talk about public safety, I talk about keeping our cops here," Robey said.

Now, the candidate said, he will confer with advisers and draw up a plan for the general election.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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