IS IT unusual for someone with their sights set on being Howard County executive to hold a $250-a-plate fund-raiser? Councilman C. Vernon Gray recently held such a fete, which was described in this newspaper as perhaps "the steepest ever charged in Howard County for a local fund-raiser."
Perhaps it is the largest this early for a seat that won't come open until 1998, but County Executive Charles I. Ecker held several similar fund-raisers during his successful re-election bid last year. One was a golf outing in which Mr. Ecker charged $200 per participant. Another was an event at Tersiguel's, one of the county's finer restaurants, where invited guests paid $250 apiece. There was a third such event, too.
Indeed, Mr. Ecker proved himself a formidable money raiser, pulling in more than $200,000. The cost of running a campaign for the open seat the next time around will likely be even larger. Mr. Gray should not be embarrassed by holding such large fund-raisers as he explores whether to run for the position. (We could lament the role of money in campaigns at all levels of government, but that's another topic.)
There's no doubt that Mr. Gray, a Democrat, would have to buck a conservative tide. He has liberal credentials and his anti-smoking legislation angered some business leaders, but he's not viewed as an enemy of the business community. To set the record straight, Mr. Gray did not frame legislation in 1986 that barred businesses from doing business with the apartheid regime in South Africa. That bill was authored by former council Democrat Lloyd Knowles and was approved unanimously by the council.
Over the years, Mr. Gray has either authored or been involved in legislation to streamline procurement procedures, to give local businesses the first option on county contracts and to extend tax breaks to Merriweather Post Pavilion. Not exactly an enemy.
Still, he would have to overcome a political shift in the county that has the number of registered Republicans nearly even with Democrats. He also has the potential quagmire of having run up hefty bills on his county car phone.
Some of his supporters may fret that a gambit to become executive would forfeit his role on the council, but we suspect Mr. Gray has found that being in the minority party on the legislative body less fun than being on the top side.