Publicist talks schools as she runs for delegate


At least one candidate for the west county and Ellicott City state delegate district doesn't need to hire a publicist. She is one.

Carolyn "Casey" Willis, who lives in Farside off Homewood Road in western Ellicott City, has touted Howard County as a vacation spot, handled press relations for county government and written a newsletter for the Rouse Co.

Her gift for promotion and knowledge of the county may be necessary in a crowded Democratic field where there are five candidates for two spots. Even should she win a nomination, she would then have to knock off one of two incumbent Republicans in a newly drawn district that is distinctly unfriendly to Democrats. As a 20-year resident of the county, a mother of three and a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the county school board, Ms. Willis, 49, said she is capable of tackling the top issue on her campaign agenda, education.

"In Ellicott City, we have two schools in the district over capacity, Waverly Woods and St. John's Lane," she said. "I think we should be doing a better job of working in Annapolis, of bringing those school dollars home."

But the incumbents, Robert L. Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman, say they've brought home plenty of school construction money.

"School construction funding for Howard County is the highest it's been in 20 years," Mr. Flanagan said. In the last General Assembly session, "we got approximately $12 million for Howard County, which is more than double what we've averaged in the past," he said.

Ms. Willis characterizes herself as a "moderate Democrat that people can support."

What makes the pro-choice, pro-gun-control Democrat a moderate, she said, is that she favors restrained government spending to avoid tax increases. The state could save money, for example, by consolidating services such as library and health services in a school building, she said. And she favors streamlining the death penalty process.

Ms. Willis, who has been news director of Howard Cable Television, executive director of the Howard County Tourism Council and the county's public information administrator under then-County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo, prides herself on not being a politician. But she also touts her connections in county government and her knowledge of government services.

"I can tell you right now who to call if you want recycling information in Howard County," she said during an interview in her home last week.

Providing that sort of referral and assistance to constituents is an important part a legislator's job, she said.

To get as far as the general election, however, Ms. Willis will have to get more votes in the Sept. 13 primary than at least three members of the five-person Democratic field, which consists of Richard E. Crabb, Bushrod W. Hopkins, Andrew D. Levy and Teresa M. Rush.

On the Republican side, Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Kittleman are being challenged by John B. Clark.

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