Ball's incumbency a focus in District 2

Democrat faces Sachs

Ellrich and Hlass seek GOP nod

Maryland Votes 2006

August 13, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

Calvin Ball has at least one advantage every candidate dreams about: incumbency.

Appointed in April to fill a Howard County Council vacancy created when David A. Rakes resigned, Ball -- who lost to Rakes in 2002 -- is taking full advantage of that status in his Democratic primary battle with Adam Sachs, a first-time candidate and former newspaper reporter.

Meanwhile, Republicans Gina Ellrich and David R. Hlass are vying for the Republican nomination in District 2, which covers east Columbia, Jessup and parts of Elkridge.

While some of the candidates agree that Ball's incumbency could be seen as an advantage in the primary and the general elections, they say its importance could be blunted somewhat by the way he took office.

"You really become an incumbent when the voters vote you in. I think that a panel appointing you is not the same thing," said Sachs, 42. "I think he has some advantage being in the system now and having served for a few months, but it's a short time to accomplish much, and if it had been a longer time, it would have made a bigger difference."

Ball, the only current council representative seeking election to the five-member panel, took office after resigning his post as the Oakland Mills village revitalization coordinator. Since joining the council, Ball said, he has forged a relationship with the community and tackled issues such as the county's $1.2 billion operating budget and the smoking ban.

Unanimously named to his seat by the county Democratic central committee, Ball clearly has party backing.

"He was well-prepared for that position and he lost to Rakes [in 2002] by not that much," said Tony McGuffin, Howard's Democratic Party chairman. "He was well-prepared for the job, and he really knows the district."

Ball also may have a bit of history on his side. The district has chosen an African-American Democrat to represent it for 24 years -- including five terms for C. Vernon Gray and one for Rakes. Ball is the only African-American in the race this year. If elected, he would be the council's only African-American member.

Even so, race has not been an overt issue in the campaign.

Ball, 30, husband of a Howard County General Hospital nurse and father of a 3-year-old, said he is learning as much about the council job as possible in order to be an asset to the community.

"Candidate Ball has taken a back seat to Councilman Ball," he said. "I spend a lot of time working on council business ... because we will have four new people coming to the council next year, and if I am chosen I will have enough institutional knowledge to make sure the council is still effective."

Sachs, a senior communications manager for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, says he is not a career politician, despite a term on the Long Reach Village Board. The lack of political experience is a positive thing, Sachs has said, because it does not commit him to any "special interest group or party machinery."

"My jobs have all required the ability to communicate and to explain complicated issues," he said. "I have worked in jobs where I worked with a lot of people, and you have to maintain good relations with people and sources."

Sachs has dealt with county issues from the sidelines, covering politics as a reporter, including in the Howard bureau of The Sun.

Ball and Sachs have similar positions on some issues, such as their support for education and tackling crime in the district. Sachs, in particular, says he would like to make solving the problem of crime around village centers a high priority.

But they carved out differences on a number of topics during Tuesday's candidates forum sponsored by the Howard branch of the League of Women Voters, including developer contributions to the campaign purse and whether the County Council should be separate from the county Zoning Board.

Ball defended the current zoning panel, saying, "We are accountable to you, the voters, and you are able to ask us questions, and we have to be responsive. If you have an appointed board, you rob yourself of that opportunity to ask them to be responsive and stay accountable."

Sachs, who previously has voiced concern about the County Council holding the dual role, told the audience: "I think the Zoning Board is the wrong place to ask for accountability from the County Council. It should be separate. ... Zoning cases are a matter of administrative regulation and judicial proceedings, and it should not be a political decision, it should be done according to law and regulation."

Sachs also told the audience that he would not accept campaign contributions from developers because such contributions give the perception that he could be swayed.

"I am not anti-growth. I felt that I did not need that money to run a campaign, and I didn't want to be perceived as under the influence of big business," Sachs said.

In a telephone interview, Ball said he is "not for sale," and he said that contributions to his campaign come from everywhere.

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