Primary sets stage for change

After general election, Howard County could have an almost-new government

Maryland Votes 2006

September 10, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

The primary election Tuesday will set the field for one of Howard County's most momentous elections in years, a November vote that will usher in a virtually new local government and possibly change the local General Assembly delegation.

Yet turnout Tuesday is expected to be light. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Betty Nordaas, the county elections administrator, predicts a 30 percent turnout. And even that would be an improvement from the county's turnout in the past two statewide election primaries: 26.4 percent for the 1998 primary, despite a lively Republican contest for county executive, and 25.5 percent in 2002.

Final registration figures show 179,435 registered voters in Howard. Among those, 82,542 were Democrats; 61,587 were Republicans; 35,303 were registered with third parties or were unaffiliated.

In four years, independent voters grew by 31 percent, greatly outpacing the Democratic Party, which grew by 12.7 percent, and the Republican Party, which reported a 9 percent increase.

Except for school board, independents and third-party members cannot vote in the major-party primaries, but Democratic and Republican leaders want as many voters as possible Tuesday to help build momentum for the Nov. 7 general election.

"If you don't vote, the person you think is going to get in might not," said Brian Harlin, GOP county chairman. "My point to everyone is, don't complain about the system if you're not willing to take part in it."

Tony McGuffin, the county Democratic Party chairman, said it is a mystery why so few people vote in primaries, but he thinks this year could be different.

"This year, there are so many challenged races in the primary," he said, referring to a range including U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, county executive, House of Delegates and two County Council districts covering Columbia. "I do think that would have an effect."

County Democrats will help choose federal nominees for potentially bruising battles for one of Maryland's U.S. Senate seats, as well as for U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's 3rd Congressional District seat representing east Columbia, Jessup and Elkridge.

Unlike in past years, three candidates - one Democrat, one Republican and one independent - will compete for county executive in the general election, while all five County Council members will be elected for the first time.

Christopher J. Merdon is unopposed as the Republican choice, and independent C. Stephen Wallis gets to skip the primaries, leaving Democrats Ken Ulman and Harry M. Dunbar to battle Tuesday for their party's nomination.

Voters also will start the process of choosing five nonpartisan candidates for an expanded seven-member school board, by paring the 14 candidates to 10 for the Nov. 7 general election.

On the legislative front, the primary will resolve struggles in two districts, though the major struggle, between incumbent Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and outgoing County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, will not be decided until Nov. 7.

In the western county, Republican Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller are fighting to keep their seats against a determined effort by newcomer Melissa Ridgely Covolesky, The Democratic primary is uncontested.

Four popular Democrats and one novice are vying for three nominations in Howard's only full General Assembly district, covering the southeast and stretching from Fulton to Elkridge.

There, incumbents Dels. Shane E. Pendergrass, and Frank S. Turner are running with County Councilman Guy Guzzone on a unity ticket, while incumbent Del. Neil F. Quinter is fighting to retain his seat. Nina Basu also is running. The Republican primary is uncontested.

There are primary contests in three County Council districts, for county sheriff and for Circuit Court judge.

In District 2, covering east Columbia and Jessup, recently appointed incumbent Democrat Calvin Ball is hoping to best Adam Sachs, while Republicans Gina Ellrich and David R. Hlass battle for the GOP nomination.

Mary Kay Sigaty again is trying to win the Democratic nomination in District 4, opposed by Josh Feldmark and UNcommon, a real estate broker named Jeffrey Underwood.

The most inflammatory battle has been in the western county's District 5 Republican primary, where Greg Fox, backed by popular state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman is opposed by former county Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who has backing from Councilman Charles C. Feaga.

Jim Adams, a third candidate, will appear on the ballot but announced his withdrawal from campaigning last week, when he shifted his support to Livesay.

If that were not enough, the Democrats also have a battle going for county sheriff, with two-term incumbent Charles M. Cave opposed by James Fitzgerald, the county police union president.

Sitting Circuit Judges Louis A. Becker and Richard S. Bernhardt will appear on both party primary ballots along with challenger David A. Titman. But that race will not be determined in the primary unless Becker or Bernhardt lose both primaries. Titman is a nominee of the Libertarian Party and will appear on the general election ballot regardless.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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