Craig claims victory in a tight race

Harford County

Maryland Votes 2006 - - A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Justin Fenton and Mary Gail Hare | Justin Fenton and Mary Gail Hare,SUN REPORTERS

Republican David R. Craig claimed victory last night in the race for Harford County executive even as results showed him locked in a tight battle with challenger Ann C. Helton, while Democrats were poised to make their first significant gains in this GOP-leaning county since 1990.

Craig appeared before supporters just before 10:30 p.m. at his downtown Bel Air campaign headquarters and called the victory a "simple mandate from the people." Returns showed him leading Helton, a Democrat, by fewer than 2,000 votes in a bid for the job he has held since an appointment in July 2005 and which he has coveted since losing in the 1998 Republican primary.

"I'm finally getting rid of that monkey on my back that says I wasn't elected," said Craig, 57.

An unusually large number of absentee ballots - more than 10,000 were requested - are expected to be counted by next week, leaving the results in some races tentative. But while Craig said he was confident that the absentee ballots would increase his lead, members of Helton's campaign said she would not give up the fight.

"She has no reason to concede. The numbers are too tight," said George Harrison, her campaign manager.

The election will have significant implications in Harford County, where military and government officials expect 30,000 jobs to relocate over the next decade as a result of the military's Base Realignment and Closure process. Much of the preparation must begin during the next four years.

The County Council that will handle those decisions will be largely inexperienced, as three incumbents sought re-election yesterday. All were leading in their respective races, though only one of them has served more than a term.

"The biggest challenge for me is going to be getting a whole new council to work together," said Billy Boniface, 42, a Republican from Darlington who had a sizable lead in his bid for council president.

Though Harford voters have been electing a nearly full slate of Republicans in recent years, there was evidence that Democrats were making inroads for the first time since 1990, when the GOP emphatically took over several state and county elected seats.

The strongest showing may have been L. Jesse Bane's. He was leading Republican Norman R. Cochran in the race for sheriff, which in Harford is the equivalent of police chief. Bane, 58, stepped down from the Harford County Sheriff's Office in April after 33 years and had the endorsements of the agency's deputy union.

The seven-member council, which included one Democrat for the past four years, tipped back slightly toward more balance, with Mary Ann Lisanti, a former city administrator in Havre de Grace, holding a lead in District F. Former Del. B. Daniel Riley also appeared likely to take back a seat he held from 1998 to 2002.

The county executive race provided ample theatrics during the campaign, with Helton flooding mailboxes with literature that criticized Craig's record as mayor of Havre de Grace and campaign contributions from developers. The candidates combined to spend more than $800,000, far more than was spent in 2002.

But Craig, a former assistant principal, made the most of his 15 months in office, kick-starting an array of capital projects, including construction or expansion of seven schools. He also made a statement by vetoing a comprehensive rezoning bill that he felt allowed too much development outside the county's designated growth area.

Helton, a land-preservation advocate and former Anne Arundel County councilwoman, had vowed to break what she called development influence and cut fat from the county budget.

In other results, several incumbents appeared headed for victory. State Sens. Nancy Jacobs and J. Robert Hooper were leading their Democratic opponents, as were several incumbent delegates.

Council member Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith, a Republican from Fallston who was diagnosed with leukemia in the spring, was leading Democrat Valerie H. Twanmoh by a slim margin in a bid for her fourth term on the council. Twanmoh's campaign accused Chenowith of sending out a last-minute mailer that misrepresented Twanmoh's experience as a zoning hearing examiner.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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