Absentee ballots seal victories for Rehrmann and Ecker


Counts of absentee ballots have confirmed the election of two new county executives: Republican Charles I. Ecker in Howard County and Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann in Harford County.

Ecker, 61, finished 450 votes ahead of Democrat Elizabeth Bobo, 46, after a count of absentee ballots yesterday. Rehrmann, 45, defeated Republican Geoffrey R. Close, 42, by 775 votes.

In Howard, Planning Director Uri Avin will pack his bags, but some of Bobo's top aides can relax -- for now. Ecker said he doesn't plan sweeping personnel changes in government, but said Avin will not be part of his administration.

Ecker earned the right to determine planner Avin's fate after he widened his 244-vote lead once absentee ballots were counted yesterday. He picked up 873 additional votes to Bobo's 667, finishing with 26,510 votes, or 50.4 percent, to Bobo's 26,060, 49.6 percent.

Before the count in Harford, Rehrmann, who is to become the county's first female top administrator, was leading by 733 votes.

The results in Howard, even two days after Tuesday's returns, stunned county Democrats, who never had imagined such an outcome.

"Oh my heavens, I was more than a little surprised," Bobo said in front of her Columbia home yesterday.

Her defeat was the first in a career that started on the County Council 13 years ago. Bobo said she had no plans for the future.

Republican faithfuls shrieked with joy as Howard County Board of Elections Chairman Frank Lupashiunski read the absentee-vote tally, which made Ecker the first Republican to be elected county executive in Howard. Dejected Democrats quietly filed out of the Board of Elections headquarters.

In other close contests, Christopher J. McCabe widened his lead by 113 votes over incumbent Democratic Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer to win a seat in the General Assembly, and Council Chairman Shane Pendergrass retained her seat by fending off Republican Dennis Schrader.

Ecker had promised during the campaign that he would replace Avin, a favorite target of developers who sought quicker approval of their projects during the county's construction boom. They frequently complained about the bureaucracy under the current growth cap that limits the distribution of building permits.

The retired deputy superintendent of Howard public schools said he would advertise for a new planning director, but said he would keep other top aides in the department.

Bobo said some developers had asked her to fire Avin, but that she remained convinced of his administrative skills and his talent as a planner. Avin could not be reached for comment.

Ecker said he has no plans to replace Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney and other top aides -- even Buddy Roogow, the county administrator -- yet. He said he admires Raymond S. Wacks, the budget director.

"He's going to stay if he wants to stay," Ecker said of Wacks.

"I do not think we need wholesale changes. We need people, the people there," he said. "At some point, I may ask for somebody's resignation."

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