Absentee votes unlikely to affect board contest

Candidates for school posts `pretty high up'

March 09, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county elections board will count about 800 absentee ballots today, but does not anticipate a dramatic shift in the primary results that have placed Lisa Breslin, Thomas G. Hiltz, Susan Holt and Stephen M. Nevin on the November ballot, competing for two school board seats.

"We don't feel the absentee ballots will be a factor," said Gail Carter, deputy elections director. "The top four are pretty high up there."

Highest in a field of 22 candidates was Holt of Sykesville. With 7,294 votes, she had nearly 3,000 more than Hiltz, her closest competitor with 4,342. In the Freedom area, the county's most populous, the tally for Holt reached 2,613.

"The campaign was a grass-roots effort," said Holt, whose two children are in Carroll schools. "They were a lot of parents concerned with school issues, and they wanted a change. They are seeing a system that is starting to fail kids and teachers."

Holt and Nevin, a Finksburg resident, were regarded as allies of board member Susan Krebs. Krebs, an Eldersburg resident elected to the board two years ago, has questioned many staff decisions and criticized what she called apathy and indecision on the board.

"Krebs' endorsement was a great factor, but word got out that I was a good worker with commitment," said Holt. "I have no agenda. My purpose is solely to get adequate funding for schools and our kids' education."

Holt's campaign literature played on Krebs' support. Nevin called Holt's showing "a mandate that says people support Krebs and that they agree the school board needs to bring forth more ideas and goals."

In South Carroll, many residents said they wanted more local representation on the five-member school board, and Holt became their candidate.

Hiltz, a Woodbine father of three and former planning commission member, garnered 893 votes in Freedom. "South Carroll was energized, and I did well there," said Hiltz.

He said yesterday that he hoped to analyze results and "see where I need to focus and get the word out."

"I am grateful that citizens made me one of the top four," said Hiltz. "I am looking forward to an issue-focused, hard-charging campaign in the fall."

Breslin had her strongest showing in her home area of Westminster, where she led the field with 1,482 votes and 4,005 countywide.

"With time and funds limited, I focused on my home community," said Breslin. "My next goal is to reach out to South Carroll and the other Carroll communities, so they can get to know me as a candidate who wants to bring everybody together."

The school board race, which began with the filing deadline in December, was "a positive experience, and I want it to remain that way," said Breslin, who added that her win was bittersweet.

"I watched qualified candidates get knocked out of the race," said Breslin, who knew several of them. "But, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to move forward in the race."

Nevin, who finished third with 4,337 votes countywide, said he will continue with his low-key campaign "every day in one way or another. I will talk to whoever wants to talk about school issues."

But, he added, the current board will determine what issues that the four candidates who have emerged from the primary will tackle when the campaign heats up again this fall.

Absentee ballots have been critical in close local races. In the 1998 Republican primary, Commissioner Donald I. Dell made the final cut by 14 votes.

"But, things are not usually that dramatic," Carter said.

James E. Kraft, who finished fifth with 3,495 votes, would need nearly 600 of the absentee ballots to overtake Breslin's total of 4,055.

The 36.8 percent turnout Tuesday in Carroll was typical for a presidential primary, said Carter. Of the 76,503 registered voters, 28,157 went to the polls.

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