It's a safe bet that Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen did not get a good night's sleep after he read the election returns on Tuesday evening. It is not so much that voters unseated two incumbent county councilmen; rather, it was the nature of those votes -- which were entirely anti-establishment in sentiment -- and the issues they represent which leave the executive in a somewhat exposed position.
In the 7th District -- which is critical in the general election -- Dale Volz, one of Rasmussen's closest allies, was wiped out by a leader of the property tax movement, Don Mason. Mason is a single-issue candidate, but his theme reverberates throughout Baltimore County; Mason preaches that government, and the Rasmussen government in particular, is spending too much, and spending it inefficiently as well. In the contentious 5th District, Vince Gardina -- a slow-growth advocate -- upset Norman Lauenstein, another Rasmussen ally. Gardina's issue was development. Indeed, the Perry Hall area where he lives has had too much, and Lauenstein had done disappointingly little to control it. But the fear of franchised, commercial strips and overcrowded schools stretches across the county -- from Essex to Owings Mills.
While Mason and Gardina are protesters of different stripes, they are protesters nonetheless, whose candidacies represent V VTC great disenchantment with the status quo. More than that, the primary win in these overwhelmingly Democratic districts is tantamount to election in November. So with the exception of the 4th District, where incumbent Democrat Barbara Bachur faces a tough challenge in November from Republican Douglas Riley, the political makeup of the new council is pretty much settled.
So from Rasmussen's perspective, the county executive now confronts a best-case scenario in which he is reelected in November only to face a new county council in which a majority, unsympathetic to his ideas, could emerge. But Tuesday's results raise a question as to whether even this will come to pass. Polls show a great deal of negative attitude among residents toward Rasmussen. And it was precisely this kind of discontent about development, and related tax issues, that unseated Executive Sid Kramer in Montgomery County. Moreover, Rasmussen faces a formidable candidate in Roger Hayden, who has gained the support of Rep. Helen Bentley, who is immensely popular in the district, and other prominent Republicans as well. That, coupled with the discontent expressed in Tuesday's election, can only be viewed as an ominous sign for the county executive.