Divergent paths in suburban politics Ballot contrast: Democrats triumph in Baltimore County, while GOP advances in Harford.

November 05, 1998

THE DEMOCRATS' victory in Baltimore County -- where the party's candidates captured legislative majorities as well as the sheriff's office and Orphans' Court -- is a triumph for re-elected County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. In just four years, he has rebuilt the Democratic power base that had been so badly fractured that a Republican grabbed the executive's job in 1990.

Particularly significant in Tuesday's election was the inability of Republicans to make inroads in the eastern county, a past Democratic citadel that had been voting Republican in recent years.

With aid from Mr. Ruppersberger, hobbling on crutches or riding in a wheelchair because of surgery, state Sen. Michael J. Collins repelled a tough GOP challenge in the Essex area. In the Parkville district, one of two GOP incumbent delegates may lose once absentee ballots are counted. All council Democrats were re-elected. The county executive's efforts should pay off handsomely if Mr. Ruppersberger decides to run for higher office in four years.

Voters in neighboring Harford County sent a mixed message. Overall, Republicans rallied, electing James M. Harkins as the local party's first county executive.

But Gunther Hirsch, a maverick Democrat, became County Council president, the only non-Republican on the new council. Republicans picked up a majority of the county's General Assembly seats.

Harford County voters used to favor conservative Democrats. Now, voters seem to favor conservative Republicans.

The election might have produced markedly different results had County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a Democrat, played an active role. However, she chose to sit out the local contests after withdrawing in August from the Democratic primary for governor.

Harford's politics are changing because of an influx of residents from Baltimore County and Baltimore City. Population growth and urbanization have produced growing pains. Schools are crowded, roads gridlocked.

Growth is such a hot topic in Harford that a ballot referendum sought to invalidate the zoning maps approved by the council last year. It was defeated -- and deservedly so. A different result would have caused chaos.

Nevertheless, many county residents are upset with what they see as rampant development. They want responsive government. This is an issue that will not go away.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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