Changing of the guard

September 13, 2006

Marylanders took the first step yesterday toward a major reshaping of the state's political leadership, replacing veteran office-holders with a new generation to confront growth and other challenges through the rest of the decade.

Outcomes were delayed in many of the high-profile primary election contests by voting problems in several key parts of the state. But no matter what the result, the election would mark the departure of Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland's longest-serving senator, and J. Joseph Curran Jr., who spent decades in Maryland politics as a state legislator and longtime attorney general. Moving on is Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who left his 3rd District seat to wage a battle for the Senate.

Also thanks to vacancies, county executive seats in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery were scheduled to change hands as well.

What's more, a tightly waged Democratic contest for state comptroller held the prospect of perhaps the most poignant development: the first loss in the extraordinary 55-year career of William Donald Schaefer.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial Wednesday incorrectly stated that Comptroller William Donald Schaefer had not previously lost an election. In fact, he lost two bids for the House of Delegates. The Sun regrets the error.

The big event of this election season waits until November, when Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. faces a challenge from the Democratic mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley. Also to be decided then is whether the Maryland General Assembly retains its strong Democratic majority or tilts more Republican. In nearly every corner of the state, though, change is under way, just in time to deal with the ever more complicated problems of the 21st century.

The race to succeed retiring Senator Sarbanes pitted Representative Cardin against his former House colleague, Kweisi Mfume, posing a painful choice for Democrats not eager to lose either Maryland veteran. The victor will face the newly minted Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, for a chance to serve as a leading voice in the state on such disparate issues as the Iraq war, health care policy and federal help for the Chesapeake Bay.

Whatever the outcome in the race to succeed Mr. Cardin in the House of Representatives, it will mean a departure from the state legislature of 28-year veteran Paula C. Hollinger, who gave up the chairmanship of a Senate committee to run for his seat. Last night, John P. Sarbanes, the senator's son, was leading in that race - a classic illustration of generational change.

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