2 enter run for Howard post

Republican and Democratic councilmen aim to become executive


Two Howard County Council members, Republican Christopher J. Merdon and Democrat Ken Ulman, said yesterday that they are running for county executive next year -- both vying to become the county's youngest-ever top official.

With two-term County Executive James N. Robey prevented by law from running again, Howard is likely to see a lively contest for the open executive's seat. A second Democrat, political novice Harry Dunbar, 61, announced earlier as a slow-growth advocate, and more candidates may join the race.

Merdon, 34, a two-term Republican who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, has been campaigning for weeks, and said yesterday that he would make a formal announcement today. A computer firm executive, Merdon is the father of two children, ages 5 and 2.

He appears to have the unified backing of county Republicans and solidified that support yesterday with an endorsement from Steven H. Adler, the GOP's 2002 nominee.

Merdon said improving the school system -- partially by raising teacher pay -- and reforming how the county deals with development are his primary issues.

Ulman, 31, a one-term councilman who represents west Columbia, declared himself to be in the race yesterday but said he would not hold a formal announcement until January. A lawyer and Columbia native whose second child was born Nov. 11, Ulman has allied himself with Mayor Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial bid.

Ulman, also chairman of the zoning board -- the council's other major function -- helped organize the recent planning charrette to map out the future of Columbia's downtown.

If they win nomination and oppose each other, both promised campaigns based on issues and not partisan bickering.

"I like Chris," said Ulman. "I think we have an excellent working relationship. We have some fundamental differences and views on the role government will have, but my hope is this would be a ... campaign based on issues."

Merdon had similar sentiments.

"I think in this election campaign, our campaign will avoid partisan issues," he said.


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