Howard politicians ask money for '94

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Just when you thought you had your fill of politics, along come local incumbents eyeing your money.

As the presidential campaign is winding down, a two-year sprint by local incumbents to stay in office is winding up. Some incumbents want to be re-elected and some want to win election HTC to a different office. All want their political careers to continue.

The Howard County executive and two county council members have have gotten a jump on 1994 by holding fund-raisers in recent weeks that have raised $5,000 to $20,000 each.

Of the three, only County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, has said what office he will be seeking in the 1994 election. "I going to run for one more term" on the council, said Mr. Feaga, a two-term incumbent.

Everybody expects County Executive Charles I. Ecker to run for re-election, but he has yet to announce. After his "Eck-toberfest" Oct. 11, a columnist for a local newspaper touted Mr. Ecker as a possible Republican candidate for governor.

With only $5,000 in the bank, that's not likely.

"I'm very flattered that people might think of me as a gubernatorial candidate," Mr. Ecker said, "but the only option I'm considering is county executive."

His decision is simply one of whether to run or not run again, and he will make that decision in about six months, Mr. Ecker said. Money is not an issue.

In 1990, when Mr. Ecker was perceived as little more than a GOP stalking horse against M. Elizabeth Bobo, the well-heeled Democratic incumbent, he raised a mere $85,253 -- including $30,000 he lent his campaign. Ms. Bobo, meanwhile, raised more than $156,000.

Since his election, Mr. Ecker has raised enough to pay himself back the money he lent the campaign and leave about $4,800 in the bank. He does not expect to spend more in 1994 than the $82,961 he spent in 1990.

Raising the remainder in the next two years should not be a problem -- even though he has not yet scheduled another fund raiser. "This is not a part of campaigning that I enjoy," he said. "It's a shame you have to do it."

About 325 people paid $30 apiece or $50 a couple to attend Mr. Ecker's beer, soda, sausage and sauerkraut "Eck-toberfest" in Savage, generating slightly more than $8,000 for his campaign coffers.

Mr. Feaga charged people $15 apiece to attend his annual beef, beer and soda outing at the county fair grounds Sept. 19. About 350 people attended, including two couples from outside the county who dropped in because they thought a $15, all-you can eat beef and beer fund-raiser meal would be cheaper than going to a restaurant. Mr. Feaga grossed about $5,000 from the event.

The other council members are keeping people guessing about what they're going to do, adding mystery and suspense to their campaigns.

No one expects C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, for example, to seek a fourth term on the council yet he refuses to rule it out. On Thursday, he raised more than $20,000 in one sitting, with more than 300 people contributing $75 each to salute his 10 years in office.

Donors know he will be running again, but don't know for what. He is rumored as a possible candidate for county executive, state Senate or the House of Delegates, but won't confirm any of them. "I enjoy serving on the council," he said. "It's very challenging and I have a real impact on people."

Although a move to limit council service to three terms would not apply to incumbent council members if voters approve the measure Nov. 3, it has Mr. Gray and other council members thinking about it nonetheless.

"With term limitations on the ballot, I have to think about other ways that I can service the county," Mr. Gray said. "I am exploring many possibilities. I have no compelling urge to move on to the next level, however. I think I have accomplished a lot in my 10 years in office, and if I were to retire tomorrow, I would have no regrets. I'm taking it one day at a time."

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, says she has deferred her fund-raising plans until next year because "I think the Democrats have a real good chance in the presidential election, and I didn't want to siphon off any money that might be needed in the campaign."

Ms. Pendergrass, who already has about $11,000 in her campaign account, is planning a $10-a-person fund-raiser for her birthday, March 14.

"That kind of money is not going to finance a campaign," Ms. Pendergrass said. "It's really a people party -- sodas and birthday cake.

The big dollars will come later, she said, when she announces whether she will be running for county executive, state senate, ,, or the House of Delegates. "When people give big dollars, they have a right to know what you're running for," she said.

A third run at County Council is not on her list.

"I don't believe we have to have term limitations," she said. "People can vote incumbents out of office. Or we can sense that it's time to move on to where we can be of greater value in serving the public."

Darrel Drown, R-2nd, is also waiting until March or April to hold his fund-raiser -- a $25-a-person picnic. "If you charge more than that, you eliminate some of the people you like to have show up," he said.

Mr. Drown, who is the force behind the proposal to limit council members to three terms, says he is "80 percent sure" he will be making a second run at the council.

Those plans could change, he said, if Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, decides to run for state attorney general, or if Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House minority whip, decides not to seek another term. Like Mr. Drown, Del. Kittleman is an advocate of legislative term limitations.

Council chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, says he has no fund-raising plans and has not decided yet what he will be running for. Like Mr. Gray and Ms. Pendergrass, he has been rumored as a potential candidate for county executive, state Senate, and House of Delegates.

"All options are open" including another run at the council, Mr. Farragut said. He has served one full term, and part of another.

When he does decide on a fund-raiser, he wants it to be on a small scale so he can include people who make small contributions.

"That's the way it ought to be," he said. "I want to spend as little as possible. What you always fear is a very wealthy, influential person running against you who will spend huge amounts to get elected. We should have very low limits on contributions and not allow PAC money."

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