Newcomer takes on unity bloc

In District 9A, GOP incumbents close ranks against a challenger

Maryland votes 2006

August 25, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Seating was alphabetical at a recent League of Women Voters candidates forum, an arrangement that put Melissa Ridgely Covolesky where she wants to be -- between the two incumbent Maryland delegates whose political alliance she is trying to split.

Covolesky, 37, a former military officer with deep family roots in western Howard's farming community, is a Republican trying to unseat Del. Warren E. Miller or Del. Gail H. Bates in the Sept. 12 GOP primary. District 9A Republican voters can choose two nominees for House of Delegates and one state senator. A third delegate is elected from the Carroll County (9B) portion of the district.

Covolesky, who is running for office full time right now, is a political newcomer running in a district where Republicans believe that winning the primary means victory in November.

"I'm not a political appointee and not an entrenched party member," she said. As a former officer in the military police, "I bring a broader perspective."

Those comments are a shot at Miller, 41, a mortgage officer at United Capital Mortgage Inc. in Columbia, who was appointed to his seat in March 2003 to fill a vacancy after serving two terms on the party central committee.

Bates, 60, defended Miller.

"Warren has the same record of service the last four years that I do. The fact that he's not been tested in an election is not as significant as the fact that he's an incumbent," she said.

Covolesky faces a daunting challenge -- to beat one of two incumbent delegates running with full backing from state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who has no primary opponent. They've got the power of their combined fundraising, as well as their street campaigning and incumbency.

In November, Kittleman will face Democrat Rich Corkran, while the primary winners for delegate will face David Osmundson, the only Democrat running for delegate in the district.

To help counter their unity campaign, Covolesky is urging voters to choose her alone instead of voting for two delegate candidates. That is an electoral tactic called "single-shooting" that magnifies the effect of a single vote in a multiple-choice election. She also lent her campaign $10,000 to get started, but the Kittleman, Bates and Miller team reported having more than four times more cash on hand Aug. 8.

Kittleman predicted his team would win.

"I don't have anything personally against Melissa," Kittleman said. "She just came out of nowhere. In a Republican primary, people are going to want to see what you have done for the party and the community. She's a very nice person. She should have run for the central committee."

The competition is for the 4,600 or so loyal GOP voters expected to participate in the House of Delegates primary in the sprawling District 9A that stretches across northern and western Howard County from Ellicott City to Lisbon.

Miller says a fair number of western county voters have not focused on the election and may not understand exactly what their choices are for delegate.

"They take [Covolesky's] yard signs because they know her or her father, but there's a lot of confusion about who's running for what," Miller said. Covolesky's father, Brice Ridgely, farms in Cooksville, and the farm is also her campaign headquarters.

Still, people who vote in low-turnout Republican primaries are "astute voters who know who represents them," he said.

Bates, too, thinks the team approach is a winning strategy.

"I think there's strength in our running together," she said. "We have worked together as a team, so it makes sense to continue to do that."

Bates has nothing negative to say about Covolesky, a bright, articulate candidate who is as engaging as Miller seems shy.

"She seems very nice," Bates said.

But there's more to public service than running for office, said Bates, an accountant and one-time top aide to Charles I. Ecker, the former Howard County executive.

"Warren and I have a very strong record, and not just in Annapolis," she said. "[In Howard County] we sponsored a TV-free week, we hold ice cream socials, we've been involved in the schools for simulated congressional hearings, and we go to community meetings. That shows our commitment to our constituents.

"Frankly, I don't think Melissa has done anything [in the community], but anybody can run."

Covolesky has a ready response.

"I would remind people that serving my country has been a valuable service, as well," she said. Covolesky spent 12 years on active duty, after ROTC training at what was then Western Maryland College. She left the Army as a major, and in May finished law school.

Covolesky stresses her support for preserving farming as an occupation in Howard, and said she would like to sponsor legislation to offer a tax credit for active-duty military people from Maryland serving in other states. That, she said, would keep them from changing their legal residence, preserving tax revenue for Maryland.

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