Wagner loses as old county names falter

Boniface wins council nomination

sheriff race up in air

Harford

Maryland Votes 2006 -- The Primary Election

September 13, 2006|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN REPORTER

Robert S. Wagner, a fixture on the Harford County Council since 1990, suffered a resounding defeat in yesterday's Republican primary, as a horse breeder and political novice from Darlington surged down the stretch to knock off the four-term incumbent and council president.

Meanwhile, the six-way race for the Republican sheriff's nomination was too close to call with five candidates running within single-digit percentage points. The front-runners, former state troopers Norman R. Cochran and Joe Price, were running extremely close in an election marked by low turnout.

In addition to Wagner, other familiar faces in Harford politics were sent home before the general election. Del. Joanne S. Parrott, who this year marked her 20th year in politics, finished third in the race for two seats, while Dr. Gunther Hirsch, a two-time mayor of Havre de Grace and former County Council president, was trounced.

About 10:15 p.m., Wagner conceded defeat to challenger Billy Boniface, a fourth-generation horse breeder - but not before taking several parting shots.

"[County Executive] David Craig pushed for a rubber-stamp council. He got it," said Wagner, 49. "We will have a single branch of government. He will control the council."

An hour earlier, Boniface, 42, had joined Craig at a victory party in downtown Bel Air. Craig, who faced minimal opposition from Bel Air engineer Mark Fisher in his race, praised Boniface's victory.

"With Boniface's victory, we have our Republican ticket," Craig declared before a crowd of supporters. "This is a new beginning for Harford County and will make a world of difference for education, public safety, and preserving the environment."

Boniface's campaign barreled into the primary, sending a last-minute direct mail flier noting that Wagner had sold his family farm to developers. He also made mass phone calls and visited hundreds of homes. Yesterday, voters at the Level Fire Hall in Havre de Grace were greeted by Boniface supporters on horseback.

Political observers believed Boniface and a third challenger, Aaron Kazi, would split anti-Wagner votes. But Wagner was fighting for second with Kazi, 37, an information technology firm owner who had unleashed several attacks during the campaign.

Boniface goes on to face Charles A. White Jr., an unopposed Democrat who was a late entry.

With voters from both major parties leaning toward the GOP in recent years, Harford's collective political gaze had been fixed on the primaries as the marquee battle. There was no shortage of hopefuls seeking to guide the party through growth and crime issues.

But candidates working the precincts for last-minute support said yesterday's election appeared to draw among the lowest turnouts they'd ever seen, and political observers abandoned their predictions early.

Election officials overcame early glitches with the voting machines, which mistakenly showed that some voters had already cast their ballot. Results also were slow to be posted on the county's Web site, stretching into the morning.

While L. Jesse Bane coasted to an easy victory for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, the Republican results were less clear. Cochran and Price were virtually deadlocked and barely ahead of four challengers. It could take a week for election officials to count absentee and provisional ballots and determine a winner.

Like Wagner, the 66-year-old Parrott had faced stiff challenges in previous elections. But 41-year-old teacher Donna Stifler delivered the knockout blow, garnering a comfortable margin over Parrott. Del. Barry Glassman, the chairman of the county delegation, was in first place.

Hirsch was handily defeated in one of the only competitive Democratic primaries. Mary Ann Lisanti, a former Havre de Grace city manager, received nearly two-thirds of the vote for Council District F, which stretches from Havre de Grace to Abingdon.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare and contributing writers Ted Shelsby and Rebecca Logan contributed to this article.

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