Kenneth Holniker, the Democratic candidate for the new legislative seat representing fast-growing South Carroll, isn't just running against a community activist who also happens to be president of the county school board.
"I never thought of myself as running against Susan Krebs," the 74-year-old Eldersburg lawyer said, referring to his opponent. "My problem is I am running against the Republican Party. I know I have to have Republican crossover to win."
Of the 20,000 registered voters in District 9B, which includes fast-growing Eldersburg and Sykesville, about 60 percent are Republican. If Republican Hoby Wolf's views are any indication, Holniker has a chance at getting the support he needs.
"As a Republican, it's hard for me to support a Democrat, but all you have to do is look at Krebs' record with the school board," said Wolf, a former member of the county zoning board and the owner of an airport in Eldersburg. "I see his signs on the property of people like me who have lived here a long time. He has done a lot in this community."
But Holniker has never held public office. He has run only once, four decades ago, and he lost. And, he is facing a longtime community activist who won election to the school board and has been its president for the past two years.
Holniker maintains a general law practice and has long been involved in community service.
With his late wife, M. Peggy Holniker, he founded the South Carroll Business Association and Beth Shalom, the county's first synagogue. The couple launched a business, Children's Farm Nursery, a day care center at their home. The couple worked to establish the Eldersburg library, the busiest branch in the county's system.
In his only previous try for public office, Holniker ran for a House seat representing Baltimore City 40 years ago. Although he had the backing of Jack Pollack, who led one of the strongest political machines of that era, he lost. He soon moved to South Carroll, and his family, career and community took precedence -- until 9B was created.
"I care enough about South Carroll that I would rather do the job myself, instead of supporting someone else," he said when he filed for the seat.
His signs are posted throughout the district and even beyond its borders. He spends weekends at area shopping centers asking as many as 100 people an hour for their vote on Nov. 5. His family is going door-to-door promoting his candidacy.
"Ms. Krebs can win because she represents the majority party, but her negatives are high," Holniker said. "I cannot imagine anybody better able to serve this community than me."
Krebs alienated some teachers after recent contract negotiations with criticisms printed in the newspaper. Some teachers said those remarks helped prompt a work-to-contract job action that has spread to a dozen county schools. The teachers union endorsed Holniker.
"That newspaper article hurt her," Holniker said. "You can't use the words she used and not upset people. ... Teachers are among the most important people in the lives of our children. We have to support them."
Former state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon said he is proof that conservative Democrats, such as Holniker, can be elected in Carroll. Dixon, who has endorsed Holniker, was elected four times and served 13 years in the House of Delegates in a district that represented all of Carroll until the General Assembly elected him Maryland's treasurer in 1996.
"It is important to have a Democrat representing Carroll County in Annapolis," Dixon said. "No Republican has been able to get the kind of funding I did for the county. Democrats run the show, and you can participate or you can be an observer."
Dixon played an important role in bringing many projects to the county, including the Police Training Center, several new schools and Freedom Park.
Redistricting created 9B, an area that includes Eldersburg, Sykesville, Woodbine, Gamber, Marriottsville and many smaller neighborhoods. South Carroll, the county's most populous area with about 37,000 residents, welcomed the opportunity for a voice of its own in the state legislature.
"I have proven that I am a leader who can negotiate," Holniker said. "You have to be a visionary, and you have to bring people together. I will give people here a delegate they can communicate with full time."
Since Holniker moved to Eldersburg more than 30 years ago, the population has tripled. He has been so involved in so many projects that he claims "there is nobody I don't know here or who doesn't know me."
Soon after South Carroll officially became a legislative district in February, Holniker was the first to file to represent it. Six Republicans and one other Democrat also vied for the job.
Krebs took 28 percent of the vote to win the crowded Republican primary. Holniker bested his one challenger, Anita Lombardi Riley, a union official, by about 600 votes.
The Holniker-Krebs contest promises to be a close one, political observers say.
"This will be a very tight race, but I think Holniker will get the crossover vote," said Thomas McCarron, chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. "He has lived in South Carroll and practiced law there for a long time. Win, lose or draw, he leaves a tremendous legacy. We need his balanced approach in the legislature so Carroll can get its fair share."
Holniker said he is ready for the challenge of public office.
"I tell people not to hold my age against me," he said. "It only means I am that much smarter and more experienced than somebody younger. I will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to this job."