Council race: Terrasa has edge, but Schrader is determined

Incumbent has big registration advantage

August 29, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

As an incumbent Democrat in a Howard County Council district with more registered Democrats than Republicans and independents combined, Jennifer Terrasa would seem like a sure bet for re-election.

"I think I've done a good job over the last four years and the [voter registration] numbers are good, but I don't take anything for granted," said Terrasa, 41, a lawyer and mother of three whose District 3 covers North Laurel, Savage and parts of Columbia's villages of King's Contrivance and Owen Brown. She's looking forward to shepherding the downtown Columbia plan toward fruition, creating a new county General Plan and working on comprehensive rezoning in a new four-year term.

She points with pride to a large new regional park and community center under construction next to Laurel Woods Elementary School, along with the county's national reputation for good living as proof that Democrats' policies are working in Howard.

But Terrasa, who is completing her first term, faces a tough opponent in Republican moderate Dennis R. Schrader. Like Trent Kittleman and Robert L. Flanagan, other officials in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration seeking elective offices in Howard, Schrader is intent on upsetting the odds in this uncertain political year. He hopes to give his party a key seat in the GOP's quest to gain influence on the five-member council. Greg Fox of Fulton is the lone Republican council member. Kittleman is running for county executive and Flanagan for council in Ellicott City-Elkridge.

"I think the economy is changing in a way that's going to be very different than what people are accustomed to," Schrader said.

He advocates further government cost-cutting in the face of an expected long-term economic downturn. If elected, he said, he might not support continued county funding for the Healthy Howard plan for uninsured residents. "I'm not sure that's been so effective," he said.

Schrader talks about his qualifications and vision while campaigning, rather than attacking Terrasa, who has been a strong supporter of Healthy Howard.

"I'm just giving [voters] an alternative," he said. "I'm finding people remember me and know who I am."

Schrader is frequently out mornings waving at commuters and knocking on doors in the evenings and on weekends.

Schrader, 57, and his wife, former state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, have a long political history, marked by several key battles against Democrats, particularly state Sen. James N. Robey.

Dennis Schrader first ran for the District 3 council seat in 1990 and narrowly lost to then-incumbent Shane Pendergrass, who four years later won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. Schrader won the open council seat in 1994 and tried four years later to become Howard County executive, losing to Robey, the former county police chief. Robey served two terms as county executive.

Sandra Schrader became the state senator from the county's southeastern area when she was appointed in 2001 to fill a District 13 vacancy. She won a full term in 2002, then was defeated by Robey in 2006.

After Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002, Dennis Schrader served as Maryland's first Homeland Security director and took a similar job in the Bush administration after Ehrlich's loss to Democrat Martin O'Malley in 2006. Schrader, a retired Naval Reserve officer, is now a private consultant.

He points to the huge, unfunded liability the county owes for future retiree health benefits and the burden of taxes on the growing number of seniors as reasons that the county must cut back.

"Our children and grandchildren are graduating and can't find work," Schrader said at a recent League of Women Voters candidates' night. The county needs greater emphasis on economic development to grow small business, he said, echoing an Ehrlich campaign theme.

Terrasa is looking more on the bright side.

"The county has not only survived [the recession] but thrived," she told the League and a cable television audience. She, like other Democrats on the council, talked about working "as a team" to save money on such things as county take-home cars while still funding schools, adding police and firefighters, and boosting recycling — all while passing a balanced budget and retaining the county's AAA bond rating, one of only 24 counties in the nation with the top rating.

"We stand out as a success story," she said, noting that the federal military base realignment and cybersecurity expansion around Fort Meade is bringing high-paying jobs and helping to spark revitalization in the county's U.S. 1 corridor.

All that "looks good on the surface," Schrader said, but it ignores the debts for pensions and rising borrowing costs that aren't discussed as often. He's worried, he said, that if teacher pension costs are pushed off on local governments, the General Assembly could increase the local income tax rate.

County Democrats, including Terrasa, have said they don't think a tax increase will be needed next year.

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