Adler predicts a close election

Incumbent, some in GOP doubt the assertion

It's `very hard to beat Robey'

Fewer than 900 votes will decide it, Republican says

Howard County

October 15, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Although he is trying to unseat a well-known, seemingly popular Howard County executive in Democrat James N. Robey, Republican Steven H. Adler is boldly predicting the race will be close - decided by fewer than 900 votes.

Never mind Robey's endorsement by all of the county's employee unions, his financial advantage, his popularity with the county's business community, and Robey's elimination of Adler's top campaign issue - the once-predicted $18 million budget deficit.

With three weeks of campaigning left, the reserved political novice who runs the Savage Mill complex off U.S. 1 is bravely predicting he will finish much better against Robey than Republican Dennis F. Schrader did four years ago - when the Democrat's winning margin was 10 percentage points, or about 8,000 votes.

"I think I'm the right guy for the right job at the right time," Adler told the Howard County Association of Realtors at a morning forum in Wilde Lake Village's Slayton House on Thursday.

Of the 90,000 voters he expects to cast ballots in the Howard County executive race Nov. 5, "I think 1 percent will make the decision," he said.

Robey smiled later when asked his view of that prediction. "I think his formula is overly optimistic," he said.

Some Republicans agree.

"I don't think it will be that close," said Charles Feaga, a staunch Republican former county councilman who lost to Schrader in the 1998 GOP primary.

Although local Republicans could get a boost from the gubernatorial campaign of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. or President Bush's popularity, Feaga said Adler likely will be 7 to 9 percentage points behind Robey.

"It's going to be very hard to beat Robey," he said, because of the former police chief's engaging personality, civil service career, devotion to his native county and his cautious consensus political style that has avoided major controversies. Adler "is unknown in a lot of the area," Feaga said.

As Robey noted in a speech to more than 300 supporters at a $35-a-ticket campaign dinner Thursday night at Laurel Park racetrack, he kept every department head who worked under former County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican. When Adler praises Ecker and criticizes Robey as a big spender without a tight hold on the budget, he also is talking about Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, who guided Ecker through eight years of recession and recovery.

Harry Lundy, president of the Williamsburg Group builders, a lifelong Republican and an Ecker supporter, told the crowd he is supporting Robey this year.

"I think he puts the county's interests in front of his interests. He's someone you can trust," Lundy said.

Adler is unfazed.

"I think we're fine," he said, explaining that although Robey has three commercials set to run on Howard County cable television from now to Election Day, Adler's commercial will run 20 times a day the final 10 days, and there will be literature drops, newspaper ads, sign waving and several campaign events, including a 50th birthday party/fund-raiser Friday.

"I think we're covered on a variety of fronts," Adler said. "I'm comfortable with where we're going and what we're saying." Using his one television ad in the final 10 days will hit undecided voters at the right time, he says.

"I'm comfortable it's going to be very close."

Ken Ulman, a Democrat running for County Council in west Columbia's District 4, said Adler's job is a tough one.

"It's hard to manufacture a leadership crisis," he said of Adler's claims.

Adler has maintained that a leadership crisis is exactly what Robey has produced with an array of missteps, from failing to find a good location for a new combined crisis center to allowing the county government bureaucracy to become top-heavy.

Before the Realtors, Adler criticized Robey over a recent incident in which a Columbia family victimized by burglars waited more than five hours the next day for police to return. The family had found their missing computer and other belongings in bags in woods near their home. By the time police arrived, however, the property - and the suspects - were gone again.

Robey said that was not the fault of police, but of a 911 operator. "The dispatcher screwed up," he said, adding that his administration has improved safety in the county by assigning an officer to each middle and high school, bolstering community patrols in three areas where crime is a problem and assigning a team of Howard investigators to the Montgomery County sniper task force in case the shootings move northward.

Adler wasn't satisfied.

"I don't like mediocrity. I don't like excuses," he said, countering Robey's statement that the crime rate is down in Howard by noting that while crime per 100,000 of population might be down, it is up in absolute numbers.

"I don't like the numbers of crimes in Howard County,' he said.

At his birthday party, Robey, honored by his guests for his 36-year career of public service, told supporters "It's not over yet, folks. I plan on winning that election."

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