New elections chief in familiar situation with appointment

Acting administrator took over another post months before election

September 04, 2004|By Andrew A. Green and Greg Garland | Andrew A. Green and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

When she becomes Maryland's acting election administrator next week, Robin Downs Colbert will find herself in familiar territory.

Democrats are questioning the Republican-led election board's decision to replace administrator Linda H. Lamone with Colbert two months before Marylanders cast their first electronic ballots in a presidential election.

But Colbert has done this before. Not only did she work in the state elections office for 15 years, but she also took over Prince George's County's top election post just three months before the 2000 election.

"She's really a very fine person and a very excellent choice," said Robert J. Antonelli, Colbert's predecessor in Prince George's. "You want somebody who knows the system, and you know, I personally think she knows more than Lamone."

Colbert, 42, the immediate past president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, has been working on elections since she was in high school, when she worked part time at the state board.

Using state employee tuition reimbursements, she worked her way through college, earning an associate's degree from Anne Arundel Community College and a bachelor's in business from Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore.

Colbert said she has worked in elections for so long because she believes it's vital that they're kept fair, equitable and nonpartisan.

"I come from where my people had to fight for a vote, had to demonstrate, and so to be able to now look back and see how far we've come, and I am right in the midst of the process - that just gives me chills to think I have opportunities my forefathers never had," said Colbert, who is African-American.

After the elections board announced yesterday that it had put Lamone on paid leave and selected Colbert to replace her, Colbert met with the state elections staff and pronounced herself ready for duty.

She worked most of her time at the state board under former administrator Gene Raynor, whom Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. recently appointed to the elections board.

Colbert left the state board a month after Lamone became elections chief to work as a state budget analyst before taking a job in Prince George's.

"To run elections, you have to be nonpartisan, and that's how I intend to run the office," Colbert said. "I think Linda's done a tremendous job. She's professionalized that office and seen more changes in the past five of six years than I've seen before."

Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's Democrat, said Colbert has done well in her county post, but he is skeptical about her appointment.

Currie said Colbert's selection was calculated by Republicans to allay criticism. Colbert is a Democrat and a black woman, qualities that could tamp down complaints that the move is political and that Ehrlich recently replaced the only black member of the elections board, Bobbie S. Mack, with Raynor, who is white.

"Are they going to give a permanent post to her, or are they going to bring her in as a caretaker to kind of cool the rhetoric and then bring someone else in, a partisan Republican?" Currie said.

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