Slow-growth activist Susan Gray was late getting to the election board last night, but improvised just soon enough to join the race for county executive.
For a time, it looked as if she wouldn't make it. She needed her campaign treasurer's signature on the filing papers, but arrived at the election board without it 30 minutes before deadline.
Ms. Gray, a Democrat, tried to convince election officials she hadn't been told the signature was necessary, but they remained firm, telling her she must have a treasurer's signature prior to 9 p.m.
When frantic phone calls failed, an election board clerk suggested that one of the two friends who had accompanied Ms. Gray might become her treasurer.
Both agreed, but it turned out that they just moved to the county and are not registered to vote.
Half-a-dozen other people were present at the board, but none stepped forward.
Eight minutes before the deadline, Ms. Gray --ed into a beauty salon above the election board, said she was running for county executive, and asked if anyone there was registered to vote in Howard County.
Lisa Petti Ellis, an attorney with a Baltimore law firm, left her manicure to become treasurer for a night.
She signed the papers two minutes before deadline. "Thanks a lot," Ms. Gray said. "You have just seen can-do government at work."
Ms. Gray will face Sue-Ellen Hantman in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
The winner will face Republican incumbent Charles I. Ecker Nov. 8.
Ms. Hantman, who entered the race in late June after months of conversation with local Democratic leaders, said Ms. Gray's entrance into the race will not change her basic strategy.
"There are definitely differences between Susan Gray and me," she said, "but I'm basically running against Chuck Ecker. I'm running this campaign on all the issues I mentioned earlier."
Mr. Ecker, who defeated a primary opponent four years ago en route to a stunning upset of incumbent M. Elizabeth Bobo, said, "It'll be good to watch the Democratic primary."
Although Ms. Gray is anathema to many Democratic regulars -- "I'm the consummate outsider; I'm on a lot of people's dart boards," she says -- some of the party faithful think she will help Ms. Hantman by creating interest in the primary in the same way that primary opponent Gil South helped Mr. Ecker in 1990.
Essentially, the Democrats are looking for Ms. Hantman to duplicate the feat of Mr. Ecker four years ago: enter the race late against a popular and seemingly unbeatable incumbent, defeat a well-known challenger in the primary, and squeak out a victory in the general election.
Ms. Gray was the last of 11 candidates to file for local office yesterday. Earlier surprises included the last-minute entrance of two Republicans in the County Council race for the west Columbia seat held by Democrat Paul R. Farragut, who is stepping down from office, the candidacy of Democrats Andrew Levy and Carolyn Willis against incumbent Republicans Robert L. Flanagan and Robert H. Kittlman in District 14-B, and the decision of Dario J. Broccolino to challenge Michael A. Weal for State's Attorney in the Democratic primary.
Mr. Broccolino served 17 years in the Baltimore City State's Attorney's office and is a 20-year resident of Howard County.
Mr. Weal, who had filed for the State's Attorney's race a year ago, had expected to be the party's sole nominee.
"What this means is that I'll have to talk to lots of Democrats -- little else," Mr. Weal said last night.
Mr. Levy is a Baltimore attorney making his first run for public office. Ms. Willis is a former executive director of the Howard County tourism council, a former Democratic Central Committee member and county public information administrator in the Bobo administration.
What is surprising about the 11th-hour entry of Republicans Mary Ann Wilkinson and Riaz H. Rana in Council District 4 race is that Democrats maintain a 2-1 edge -- 11,664 Democrats to 6,430 Republicans. The Democratic primary winner is expected to win the general election easily.
However, three Republicans are vying for the right to challenge either James B. Kraft or Mary C. Lorsung, Mr. Farragut's hand-picked successor, in the general election.
The third Republican is Robert E. O'Brien, who entered the race June 24.