The rumor swirled among Harford Republicans - two outspoken County Council members were contemplating a run for county executive against David R. Craig.
But those close to Council President Robert S. Wagner and Councilman Lance C. Miller said the posturing, full of half-statements and maybes, was nothing more than election-year parlor tricks aimed at informing Craig of their dissatisfaction with the way he has governed since his appointment last summer.
Craig's election campaign officially kicked off Thursday with a packed gala at the Richlin Ballroom, and party leaders say he will not be challenged from within. Yet with that support has come a disclaimer - that their backing is not a blanket approval of his performance.
"Am I hearing criticism? Yes, I'm hearing some criticism," said William G. Christoforo, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee. "If you make decisions, you're not going to please everyone. But I expect him to be the county executive when it's all said and done, and I don't have any question about that."
Among Craig's rivals and some allies, the most common complaint has been that he is trying to do too much as an appointed county executive, using his 16 months to reshape the government in his vision and make multiyear funding commitments.
Craig, however, had been gearing up for a run at the position before then-County Executive James M. Harkins left for a state job and insisted he would not be a seat-warmer until the election. He and his staff frequently talk in terms of his eight-year - or two-term - vision for the county.
Immediately after he took office, Craig got to work on his initiatives, starting with a hiring freeze aimed at achieving a tax cut, the formation of a new executive office and, later, an ambitious - and many say risky - $210 million school construction plan.
"Part of his style is that he is very open and he loves telling people what his plans are," said spokeswoman Roxanne Lynch. "People aren't used to his go-get-it abruptness, his `let's get it going and not wait.' It'll work towards the benefit of Harford County citizens."
As the political focus shifts to election season, Craig has come under fire from several directions. Members of the business community, which has provided more than half of the $150,000 Craig had raised as of January, had millions of dollars in deals stalled after the county's comprehensive rezoning process crumbled in a dispute over two parcels.
"It's frustration, as much with the process as with the decision-makers," said Eric E. McLauchlin, an attorney who serves on a county land-use advisory committee. "People don't understand why it had to happen this way."
More recently, Craig had a public feud with the council as they sparred over a handful of administrative positions in his budget. Last week Craig left a bouquet of flowers with a note that read "Please accept my apology" at the desk of a council secretary whom had he criticized in comments to the local newspaper.
So with rumors abounding and the July 3 candidate filing deadline looming, Wagner and Miller threw their names into the fray.
Wagner, the council's longest-serving member, was tight-lipped, entertaining the idea but refusing to characterize his intentions. In contrast, Miller unabashedly stoked the flames of his potential candidacy, saying he wouldn't run for his seat again but was considering other options.
But late last week, both conceded they would not run for county executive. Privately, they never gave the idea serious consideration.
Miller said Friday he would back Wagner in what is shaping up to be a crowded field for council president, an endorsement that spoke volumes about his relationship with Craig as others align candidates to take aim at Wagner.
"I'm backing Rob Wagner, he will have my full support and that of the people behind me," Miller said. "I'll do my job to show the north end of the county that he is the person for the position."