Watson mulling a run for one of three positions


July 17, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

ALTHOUGH MANY observers expect Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, to run for the County Council seat being vacated by Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon next year, she might have other plans.

After staying mum about her choices at a well-attended fund-raiser in April, Watson, a Democrat, now says she might go for the county's top job - or for County Council, or for a second term on the school board.

"I'm wondering where I'm best able to make a difference. They say it's a thankless job, but I feel I've made a positive difference on the Board of Education, and that's the best thanks I could receive," Watson said in an e-mail.

County executive, County Council and the school board all represent tough challenges - and opportunities for Watson, whose father, Edward Cochran, served in all three jobs while she was growing up.

"All three positions need people who are not afraid to make tough decisions and stand by them - but this is particularly important to the position of county executive, I think. Decisions, decisions. ..." Watson said.

A decision to seek the Democratic nomination for executive could provoke a contested party primary because County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, may also run.

That could put the Democrats in the same political spot Republicans occupied in 1998.

Instead of keeping control of county government after eight years with Republican Charles I. Ecker as executive, the GOP lost the post to upstart Democrat James N. Robey after a nasty party primary.

Wendy Fiedler, Howard's Democratic party leader, said that won't happen.

"They're both smart to weigh all their options," she said about Watson and Guzzone.

O'Malley in Howard

For Maryland Democrats to defeat Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. next year, they, too, must avoid a divisive primary election fight between the party's two unannounced contenders - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

O'Malley, who appeared at a Howard County Young Democrats function at Howard Community College on Thursday night , said that is a personal goal of his, mindful that except for Ehrlich, the way to the State House for Maryland Republicans has traditionally involved Democrats indulging in nasty battles.

"I'm trying to avoid that. I try to stay focused on my accomplishments," O'Malley said after a short speech to about 70 Democrats, including local supporters Dels. Elizabeth Bobo and Shane E. Pendergrass and County Councilman Ken Ulman.

Baltimore County State Sen. Paula C. Hollinger and Howard Del. Neil F. Quinter - rivals for U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's Third District congressional seat - also attended but aimed their criticisms at Ehrlich, not each other.

O'Malley focused mainly on progress he said Baltimore has made in reversing a 30-year decline before his election in 1999. He said his efforts have lowered crime, helped more drug addicts and improved schools and other city services, but he also spiced the speech with a few shots at Republican policies.

He criticized Michael Chertoff, the Bush administration's homeland security secretary, for saying resources are limited and should not be spent to lessen specific vulnerabilities because of a single incident such as the London subway bombings.

"The federal government can't afford to protect subways and transit," O'Malley scoffed.

The governor's administration suffers from a lack of leadership, he said - defining that as "having the guts to address problems head-on." O'Malley repeated frequent Democratic criticism of Ehrlich for raising state property taxes, college tuition and myriad fees, highway tolls and other charges after promising not to raise taxes.

"Compromise is not a dirty word," O'Malley said, referring to Ehrlich's battles with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. "We can't make progress by dividing people."

O'Malley said he supports limited numbers of slot machines at race tracks, though he feels local jurisdictions should have some say in the decisions. He also supports building the Inter-County Connector highway for Montgomery County - but he said, "We cannot let one highway masquerade as a transportation policy." Mass transit needs more support. He also supports a paper-verified voting system, he said.

Responding later to the criticisms of Ehrlich, Howard Rensin, Howard Republican party chairman, said Maryland is flourishing under Ehrlich. Tax revenues are up, welfare cases are down and Ehrlich is providing strong leadership.

"The mayor is reading out of a playbook that has been long since shown to be counterproductive. We urge him to continue to do so," Rensin said.

Ethan W. Moore, president of the Young Democrats and organizer of the event, called it a "fantastic evening," though the crowd did not come close to filling the room. The group plans to invite Duncan to speak in the fall.


The Howard County Council awards honorary resolutions all the time, but one scheduled for tomorrow night is a bit unusual.

It honors the private Glenelg Country School's Performing Arts Department and the race-blind casting for a production of Big River, which tells Mark Twain's story of Huckleberry Finn and the white boy's relationship with an African-American slave named Jim.

In the school's play, faculty member Carole Lehan cast student Jay Frisby, an African-American, in the role of Huck, and Nick Lehan, who is Caucasian, in the role of Jim.

The school was barred from presenting the show at two awards ceremonies by R&H Theatricals, which holds licensing rights, because, a spokesman said, the races of the characters are central to the story.

The resolution, suggested by County Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, celebrates the school's effort to show that race is less important than the relationship between the characters.

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