Highland attorney Susan B. Gray capped seven years of community activism last night by winning the Democratic primary for county executive.
County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, no relation to the county executive primary winner, Board of Appeals Vice Chairwoman Evelyn Tanner, council aide Mary C. Lorsung and retired businessman Riaz H. Rana also scored wins yesterday in their County Council races.
Ms. Gray led from start to finish in her upset over Columbia lawyer Sue-Ellen Hantman, the former chairwoman of the local Democratic Central Committee.
Ms. Gray won by a comfortable 1,047-vote margin -- 53 percent to 47 percent -- and will vie with Republican incumbent Charles I. Ecker in November. Mr. Ecker ran unopposed in yesterday's Republican primary.
Since she entered the race at the 11th hour July 5, Ms. Gray has been running more against Mr. Ecker and his administration than against Ms. Hantman. She attributed her victory yesterday to dissatisfaction with the way the county has been run.
"The people of this county have not been listened to," she said. "They are not happy. I think the most important thing to do now is to get Chuck Ecker into debates."
Ms. Hantman, who was the choice of party regulars, said, "The people have gone to the polls and spoken on their positions. The Democrats will work together in the fall and campaign for Susan."
Mr. Ecker said he did not have a preference for an opponent in November. "I have the same game plan, the same campaign" regardless, he said.
In the east Columbia County Council race, Republican challengers and Kathryn Mann, a Democratic Central Committee member and former Planning Board chairwoman, figured Mr. Gray, a three-term incumbent, might be ripe for an upset.
But based on yesterday's results, Ms. Tanner will have an almost insurmountable task this fall. Not only do registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in the district, but Mr. Gray defeated Ms. Mann handily yesterday despite her having waged an aggressive campaign against him. Mr. Gray bested Ms. Mann by a 1,427-vote margin in a 4,119-vote race, winning 66 percent of the vote.
"I'm very pleased with the confidence shown in me by the voters and I hope to continue to deal with major issues such as [technological equity] in schools," Mr. Gray said. "I am very, very pleased."
Ms. Tanner, a former Democrat who switched parties shortly before the election, beat Gary Prestianni, another former Democrat, by 76 votes in the Republican half of the primary, garnering 52 percent of the vote. "Now, the hard work begins," she said. "It's me and Dr. Gray, so I'll give it my best."
In the west Columbia council race, Mary C. Lorsung, aide to retiring County Councilman Paul R. Farragut, defeated former Democratic Central Committee member James B. Kraft by 221 votes, winning 52 percent of the vote in their 4,555-vote race.
Mr. Kraft ran an aggressive media campaign against Ms. Lorsung and raised nearly three times as much money for his campaign to no avail.
"I'm obviously happy and joy-filled at this moment," Ms. Lorsung said. "In a less personal way, this race was a choice about community service. It shows that grass roots still mean a lot in this community and that makes me feel very good."
Ms. Lorsung was in Wisconsin the last week of the campaign to be with her mother, who is in a coma.
"My mother doesn't know and may not be able to know outside of intellect and physical touch. I am absolutely glad I went to be with her in the last week of the campaign. It was the right thing to do and things turned out right."
Mr. Rana, her November opponent, defeated rivals Mary Ann Wilkinson and Robert E. O'Brien in the GOP half of the west Columbia primary, winning 46 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Ms. Wilkinson and 18 percent for Mr. O'Brien.