Robey defies odds Can he govern? Former police chief who wasn't favored to win must hone skills needed to lead the county.

November 05, 1998

GOING INTO Tuesday's elections, the conventional wisdom was that the well-oiled campaign machine of Republican Dennis R. Schrader would make him the next county executive. But that calculation failed to take into account the heavy turnout of Democratic voters that propelled former police Chief James N. Robey to victory.

Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans in Howard County. But the conservative mood of voters led to the choice in 1990 of the county's first elected Republican executive, Charles I. Ecker. Four years later, Republicans gained a 3-2 plurality on the council.

That all changed Tuesday with the election of Mr. Robey and three Democratic council members.

Mr. Schrader's decision to continue with tactics that garnered criticism in the GOP primary was also a factor. He antagonized fellow Republicans by labeling primary opponent Charles C. Feaga the "developers' friend." Mr. Schrader tried to portray Mr. Robey as a tool of the police union and insensitive to women, but the negative campaigning backfired.

The election of Mr. Robey is understandably viewed with trepidation by some. His 32 years in law enforcement, seven as chief, give him invaluable insight into how to address public safety concerns. But the biggest issues facing the county are residential growth and its impact on schools and roads.

Mr. Robey has kept up with those situations. Now he must develop the expertise to deal with them as county executive.

Throughout his campaign Mr. Robey displayed an exceptional ability to motivate people from differing factions. That attribute will be important in the weeks ahead as county government goes through the transition to a new administration. Voters have expressed confidence in Mr. Robey. His most immediate task is to put together a team that won't lose ground in preparing for the county's future.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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