Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino is relieved to find himself the only incumbent in the county without an opponent in this year's elections, and it's not just because he has no money for a campaign.
Although a Democrat, the low-profile Broccolino sees his job as nonpartisan law enforcement and preaches that straight-ahead approach to his staff lawyers when they prosecute cases. Getting a full four-year term in office without having to campaign for it helps that stance, he said, and he's "very pleased."
"It's very gratifying to me because it lets me just continue working," he said. "I don't have to run a political campaign. I don't have the distraction."
While no one filed against him, the Republican central committee could still pick someone to run for state's attorney, but GOP party chairwoman Joan Becker said she's not looking for a candidate. So Broccolino, who has served in the job since April 2008 when former state's attorney Timothy J. McCrone was chosen for a Circuit Court judgeship, looks like he's effectively elected.
County Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican and the council's only GOP member, came close to a free ride, too. But Democrats persuaded Dr. Zaneb Beams, 37, of western Ellicott City and the daughter half of a mother-daughter pediatrician practice in Columbia, to file for the District 5 seat as a Democrat with just one business day to spare before the July 6 deadline. Beams moved to Howard as a child but lived out of state for 18 years as an adult, returning in 2008, she said.
Fox said having to campaign doesn't matter to him.
"I was actually perfectly fine having an opponent," he said, knowing his western county district has consistently elected Republicans for years. Fox also said it has been important to have dissenting voices on the council as part of a system of checks and balances on the county executive.
But Beams, an energetic mother of four who worked for national health care reform as an organizer with the group Doctors of America, said she intends to get out and provide voters a choice.
"I love door-knocking. I was out canvassing all spring" for health care, Beams said. Although interested in national issues, she sees party affiliation as nearly irrelevant on the County Council level, where issues such as schools, land use and transportation are basic to every resident.
But Fox questioned whether Beams' advocacy for health care reform would help or hurt her. "I don't know if that type of background is going to play well in western Howard County," he said.
Beams said Del. Guy Guzzone and other Democratic leaders, such as party chairman Michael C.A. McPherson, have been encouraging her to run for more than a year. "He convinced me I had nothing to lose and everything to offer," she said about McPherson. He said "it's important that every position up for election should have a Democrat running."
Both parties feel that way in what promises to be an unusual political year.
Another late filer is Republican Bob Wheatley, 49, of Dunloggin, who is running for the District 12B House of Delegates seat held by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat, since 1994.
Bobo has a primary election opponent in John Bailey, a former Republican who switched parties this year.
Wheatley's wife Josette is campaign manager for Trent Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive.
Wheatley said he supported Bailey until he switched parties. "People are looking for change," Wheatley said.
Like Beams, Wheatley faces a steep uphill battle in a district covering west Columbia that has consistently voted for Bobo, one of the county's most liberal Democrats.
Aside from Bobo's primary, the only other Sept. 14 contests involve Council District 4, the mostly west Columbia district where Democrats Mary Kay Sigaty and Alan Klein have squared off, and Republicans who have filed for General Assembly seats in District 13, the southeastern county area now represented by State Sen. James N. Robey, and Dels. Guzzone, Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner, all Democrats.
Klein, a frequent critic of the three-decade redevelopment plan zoning for central Columbia approved by Sigaty and the County Council, feels his opponent made promises she's failed to keep. Sigaty said she's worked hard to modify the General Growth Properties plan to give Columbia a bright, prosperous future. The winner of that primary would face Republican Tom D'Asto, who also ran four years ago.
Two Republicans are vying for the chance to oppose Robey, the former county executive and police chief: Kyle Lorton of Fulton and Jody Venkatesan of Stone Lake, both novices. Four Republicans are seeking three nominations for House of Delegates in that district, including Ed Priola, Jeff Robinson, J'Neanne Theus, and Loretta Gaffney, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 2006.
The district is normally friendly to Democrats, who hold a large edge in registrations, though voters in Council District 3, which covers much of the same area, did elect Republican Dennis Schrader in 1994. Schrader is running again this year to try to retake the seat from Democrat Jen Terrasa, the incumbent.
This year, some consider the phrase "career politician" almost a dirty word, and that's exactly how Republican party chairwoman Joan Becker described Jim Robey at the June 23 GOP fundraising dinner for Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Introducing Lorton and Ventakesan as the two candidates vying to oppose Robey in November, Becker said that as a "career politician, he needs to go."
Robey later took umbrage at the label, pointing out that he served 32 years on the Howard County police force, rising to chief, compared to 12 years in elected office as a two-term county executive and now a state senator.
"Twelve years. I don't consider that a career politician," Robey said later. "They have to say what they have to say, but what they say should be reasonably accurate," he said.
There is a bit of Howard County history between Becker and Robey, who appointed her to a citizens committee on plans for Western Regional Park after she objected to some of the park's original features. Further back, Becker's father, Democrat Frank Lupashunski, taught a young Jim Robey at Howard High school in the 1950s.
Becker defended her characterization of Robey, however. "I think he is [now] a career politician. He does not understand the private sector," she said, though as county executive Robey cultivated local business interests and was popular with them. As an economist, Venkatesan "gets it," Becker said, and Lorton works for W.R.Grace, so he, too, knows private business.
Unusual vehicles are always popular in Howard's three July 4 parades, and in election years such as this one, politicians like to get in on the act.
Ironically, although incumbent county executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, has strongly pushed hybrid and electric vehicles for county government use as part of his environmental focus as executive, he rode in a borrowed Mustang V-8 convertibles in all three parades.
Meanwhile, Republican Trent Kittleman rode her Segway electric scooter in the River Hill parade. Though she lacked the big, visible entourage that 2006 Republican candidate Christopher B. Merdon displayed, or the traditional appeal of Ulman's Mustang, she pointed out a possibly salient fact: "He didn't win," she said about Merdon. Later, Kittleman said the Segway is a great way to campaign, and a wonderful conversation starter with voters, not to mention fun to use.
This year, Ulman, who hustled to all three parades in River Hill, Longfellow and Atholton, was the most visible politician, thanks partly to squads of volunteers from the county police and firefighters unions.
Schrader, who marched alone at Atholton wearing a campaign T-shirt nearly indistinguishable from his Republican companions' running for other offices, was perhaps the least visible. Terrasa, his opponent, marched with a large team of supporters in bright purple campaign attire.
Schrader said he wasn't worried about his visibility. "This is about the neighborhood kids. I came early to talk to the kids" about national values and patriotism, he said.
Sheriff James F. Fitzgerald didn't have Ulman's volume of volunteers, but he did have his electric Gem-e car, a tiny electric-powered, four-seat vehicle his office used $19,000 of a federal grant to buy for patrolling the large parking lots around the county's Circuit Courts. Doorless versions are popular among tourists in Key West, Fla., and other resort towns.
"It's worked out very well. It's a nice tool to have," said Lt. C.L. Roles, who got the car to the parade for Fitzgerald to ride in. The sheriff, who is opposed by Republican Charlie Moore of Sykesville, said he participated in the parade as a public official, not as a candidate.