Epstein has 5-vote lead in comptroller's race Results won't be known until ballot counts are double-checked this week

September 22, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Owings Mills accountant Larry M. Epstein clung to a five-vote lead yesterday in the race for the Republican nomination for state comptroller as election officials completed their first count of ballots statewide.

The outcome of the election won't be known until later this week, when double-checked vote counts are submitted by election boards. In Prince George's County, some errors have been found which will change that county's figures in the comptroller's race, said Robert J. Antonetti Sr., administrator of the county's election board.

"I wouldn't start declaring anybody the winner yet," Antonetti said yesterday. He added that his county's review of vote totals would be completed today or tomorrow.

Epstein, the party's nominee for the post in 1990, said yesterday that he was assuming his lead would withstand the review because he had no time to waste in starting his general election campaign. The Republican nominee will face Democratic nominee and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who enters the general election race with nearly universal name recognition.

"At this point we're moving forward, based on today's count, as though we are the winner because we don't have any more time," Epstein said. He said his campaign will criticize Schaefer as lacking a vision to improve the comptroller's office.

Epstein was to make a speech last night before a women's club in Carroll County, and he was preparing to mail letters asking for campaign contributions. He also said he would begin to arrange for television and radio advertising.

Epstein, who led by 295 votes after ballots were tallied on election night, saw his lead shrink as absentee votes were counted. He held a nine-vote lead before the last of the state's absentee ballots were counted yesterday in Prince George's. Rival Timothy R. Mayberry received 49 absentee votes to Epstein's 45 in absentee ballots there, trimming the margin to five votes among more than 182,000 cast.

"I would suspect it probably is the closest [statewide election], at least in recent memory," Linda H. Lamone, the state elections chief.

With a handful of votes separating the top two contenders, state election officials will look carefully at the official final tallies submitted by election boards in Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City. Lamone said yesterday that those figures have been received from three counties, and that the others are expected by tomorrow.

Mayberry, a Washington County banker who was the party's 1994 nominee for comptroller, watched as the absentee votes were counted yesterday in Prince George's. His camp was hoping that the review of vote counts might yet turn the election in his favor.

"We're not conceding yet," Mayberry spokeswoman Dee Richards said yesterday. She said Mayberry will wait before launching any general election campaign.

"The only thing we think is sensible to do is to wait for the official count," she said. "I don't really see how one can begin campaigning with a five-vote spread, be it up or down. If Tim turns out to be the winner, he's just going to go out and do what he does as quickly as possible."

If Mayberry wins the nomination, he, too, will criticize Schaefer for saying he sees no reason to make changes in the comptroller's office, Richards said.

To get to the photo finish, Epstein and Mayberry received more votes than Michael Steele, a Prince George's lawyer who had been endorsed by GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Both Epstein and Mayberry said they would not petition for a recount after the final tally is reached.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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