Anti-smoking advocates in Howard County now believe they have a potentially important ally: Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
"I can't wait to tell all our member groups that Doug Duncan will push for smoke-free restaurants and bars at a state level," said Glenn Schneider, legislative chairman of the Smoke Free Howard County Coalition, after learning this week of Duncan's support for tighter restrictions.
Just last month, anti-smoking forces lost a bruising fight in the Howard County Council in their bid to have the county's smoking restrictions extended to a full ban.
On Wednesday night, Duncan told a packed Columbia Democratic Club meeting that, if elected governor, he would back a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants - if it won approval from state legislators.
"If something came through the General Assembly, I would support it," Duncan said in answer to a question from Schneider. Duncan added that more local smoking bans need to be adopted to build momentum statewide.
Although Duncan's answer did not stray far from comments he has made in the past, his stance is different from that of his chief Democratic rival, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who told The Sun in December that he is not a big proponent of local smoking bans because they might cause business to move across local boundaries.
Duncan was one of several political hopefuls at the club's meeting, which drew more than 100 people to the Jeffers Hill Community Center. Also speaking were state comptroller candidate Del. Peter Franchot and attorney general candidate Tom Perez, who is a Montgomery County councilman.
Franchot, a 20-year legislator, is seeking to replace Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who Franchot says is a Republican in all but party registration.
"Don't send someone who in 16 years has never endorsed a Democratic candidate for president," Franchot said to applause.
Schaefer, as a vital swing vote on the state Board of Public Works, "has empowered the entire Republican agenda. In the last three years, he's become a Republican. A vote for Schaefer is a vote for [Gov.] Bob Ehrlich," Franchot said.
Perez, a former prosecutor, said he wants to be an "activist, aggressive" attorney general, and thinks current Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will retire rather than run again.
Three for two
While Democrats search for a state Senate candidate to oppose incumbent state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman in western Howard, and for someone to join David Osmundson as a candidate for House of Delegates, Republicans have the opposite problem: three candidates for two slots.
Republican Melissa Ridgely Covolesky, 37, of Mount Airy, former active duty Army officer and law student and a descendant of one of Maryland's oldest families, is planning to compete with Dels. Warren E. Miller and Gail H. Bates for District 9A's two House seats. District 9 also covers a portion of southern Carroll County, which is a separate sub-district represented by Del. Susan W. Krebs.
"My family has historically been active in politics," Covolesky said, adding that her military training in military police work and anti-terrorism could bring a fresh perspective to the county delegation. "I don't believe people should run unchallenged."
Covolesky, an Army Reserve major, spent 12 years in the military, living outside the county, but returned with her husband, David, in 2003, she said.
She plans to run her campaign from the family's 200-acre horse farm in Cooksville, where she grew up and wants to find more ways to ensure a sound future for working farms in the county. Because Miller was appointed to his seat and has never been elected, Covolesky said she believes this is the time to run.
Miller, a management consultant and, like Covolesky a Glenelg High School graduate with a family history in Howard's farming past, was appointed in early 2003 to fill a seat vacated by Robert L. Flanagan, state transportation secretary.
Miller and Bates said they welcome competition, but are running as a team with Kittleman this year, contending they have a four-year record to recommend themselves to voters.
Brian Harlin, GOP chairman in Howard, said that although Covolesky has "every right to run," the party "would rather not have [competition]. The governor has made it very clear that we, as a party, will back our incumbents. I think Gail and Warren have done an awesome job."
A word of advice for anyone considering a run for public office this year: Check the qualifications before quitting your day job.
Thomas C. Snyder is the prime example. The 50-year old Ellicott City resident resigned Feb. 3 as director of the Maryland Department of the Environment's air pollution control division, saying he planned to run for public office in Howard County.
Although he is a registered Republican, he said he wanted to run a slow-growth campaign for county executive as an independent, which requires collecting 1 percent of registered voters' signatures on petitions, about 1,600 names.
That would be no problem, Snyder said. But he had forgotten that Howard County executives are required by law to be county residents for at least five years. Snyder and his wife, Elizabeth, bought their house in April 2003, though he said he had moved to Howard in 2001.
After determining that he does not meet the residency requirement, Snyder decided to give up his campaign before it began.
For anyone else pondering a run, County Council seats require two years residency; General Assembly seats require one-year residency in Maryland and at least six months in the particular district.