Field day for office seekers 4 Harford candidates hoping to replace departing Rehrmann; A domino effect; Dels. Jacobs, Preis seek seat in Senate; 21 running for House; CAMPAIGN 1998


Who isn't running for office in Harford County?

Taking their cue from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who wants to become the next governor, several local politicians are vying to change office. And a flood of Harford residents -- from community activists to seasoned officials -- are running to fill the vacancies, with more expected to file by tomorrow's deadline.

Intense races are shaping up in the suburban county of more than 200,000 people, where many ordinary citizens are as

well-versed in zoning law as bureaucrats are, and the gap between the number of Republican voters and Democrats has narrowed.

"It's very exciting," said Del. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who is challenging fellow Del. Mary Louise Preis, a Democrat, for a District 34 Senate seat being vacated by David R. Craig, a Republican running for county executive.

"We've got a very intelligent voter base here, where people are younger and very interested in their communities," Jacobs said. "We don't have voter apathy up here."

Even with the rapid growth in recent years, Harford County politics has maintained its small-town flavor, with civic leaders often becoming long-term political officeholders.

Like pieces moving on a chessboard, several veteran politicians are making room for others this year by seeking new offices. In addition to Craig, Jacobs and Preis, Republican Del. James M. Harkins is leaving his District 35 seat to run for county executive.

Twenty-one people have filed for the three vacant House of Delegates seats -- including County Council President Joanne S. Parrott and Councilman Barry Glassman, who are giving up their seats on the all-Republican council.

"I think that there are a lot of open seats, so it's a bit like political musical chairs," said Preis, who has been a delegate since 1991.

In an area where Democrats once outnumbered Republicans by 2-to-1, party numbers have changed in recent years as newcomers arrive in the county. By the end of May, there were 54,541 registered Democrats in Harford and 43,266 Republicans.

"Many people have moved here, are paying a little more for their mortgages and have decided that they are Republicans," said Arthur H. Helton, a former state senator who is challenging Robert W. Cos for the Democratic nomination for county executive. "Historically here, the Democratic group here has been known to be pretty conservative."

That, coupled with the rising number of Republicans, may lead to the first GOP county executive since the county adopted its charter in 1972.

Political observers say voters are more apt to vote for candidates who support their issues instead of voting strictly along party lines. "You must get the crossover vote to be elected in Harford," Harkins said. "You have to get the message out to all of the voters."

Growth, education, public safety and the environment rank high on the list of Harford residents' concerns. First-time candidate Mary-Dulany James, daughter of the late William S. James, a state treasurer and Senate president, said candidates must deal with the angst over booming growth in the county.

"I think people love to live in Harford, and a lot of people still want to move here," said James, a Democrat who is running for one of the two vacant House seats in the 34th District. "You want to be able to accommodate all of those who want to move here without losing the aesthetic, which is one of the things which draws them here."

County Council candidate Valerie H. Twanmoh said the fight over growth in the county persuaded her to run. The Fallston resident is one of several people who spearheaded the referendum drive that will put Harford's comprehensive rezoning plan on the ballot this fall.

"The more I became involved, there was a feeling of dissatisfaction and disappointment with how things were being run in the county," said Twanmoh, a Democrat. "It seems that there really is no ear there for those community groups or individuals who have an opinion which differs from the council."

Growing disillusionment with the current council has discouraged people from running for those seats, Helton and others said. Council members have been faulted for bickering and failing to cooperate with one another.

But Parrott disagrees with that assessment.

"I think this council has been very assertive in their decisions," said Parrott. "I think we have been very fair in involving the public in our decisions."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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