Democrat James N. Robey defeated Republican County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader yesterday in the Howard County executive's race, leading an unexpected Democratic surge to give the party control of the executive's office and the County Council for the first time since 1990.
The 57-year-old former police chief had more than 55 percent of the vote with 85 of 87 precincts reporting and only absentee ballots to be counted, faring better than either side expected in conservative strongholds such as Ellicott City and western Howard. Schrader conceded at about 10 p.m.
Robey's victory, combined with the election of three Democrats to the five-member County Council, dramatically reverses a 12-year trend of Republicans gaining ground in local elections. Republicans first won a seat on the County Council in 1986, won the executive's office in 1990 and captured a 3-2 majority on the council in 1994 -- despite a Democratic edge in voter registration.
Some stunned Republicans said last night that high Democratic turnout and a surprisingly strong Democratic showing statewide might have helped sway the local races.
Republican State's Attorney Marna McLendon was also having trouble last night with challenger Timothy J. McCrone in a race that was going down to the wire. Incumbent Sandra H. French and Laura Waters appeared on their way to winning school board seats.
In a wealthy county that takes pride in its top-rated school system and low crime rate, the election may have been, in part, a referendum on whether a county once dominated by liberal Columbia has moved permanently into the age of fiscally conservative, suburban Republicanism.
Voters in the executive race rejected a Republican who pledged to cut the trash fee and reduce the cost of government in favor of a Democrat who ran largely on a populist message of improving the lot of county employees, making housing more affordable for blue-collar workers, and including the public when shaping policy on growth.
It also was a vote for the face of old Howard in Robey, born and raised in the county before Columbia existed, over a symbol of new Howard in 45-year-old Schrader, a moderate, upwardly mobile Republican who moved to Columbia in 1987.
Robey succeeds two-term Executive Charles I. Ecker, a fiscally cautious Republican who steered the county through tough economic times by making sometimes painful budget cuts and, early in his administration, raising the property tax. Some slow-growth advocates accused him of being too friendly to residential developers, though he won his first election in 1990 in part on the issue of managing growth.
Eight years later, Schrader won his Republican primary by decrying how poorly residential growth has been managed, painting his opponent Charles C. Feaga as "the developers' friend," and appeared well-positioned for the general election. In the fall campaign, Schrader devoted more energy to portraying himself as the better qualified candidate on a range of issues vs. "good ol' boy" Robey. He also criticized Robey's treatment of women and victims during his seven years as police chief.
The former police chief portrayed Schrader as a politician's politician who doesn't care as much about the people as he does about getting elected. He lashed back in response to Schrader's attacks, while maintaining that he was running a positive campaign about increasing commitment to education and public safety.
85 of 85 precincts
% * - denotes incumbent
James Robey (D) 43,322
.' Dennis R. Schrader (R) 35,081
Timothy J. McCrone (D) 37,445
+ Marna McLendon* (R) 37,279
G. Russell Walters (D) 30,685
Charles M. Cave (R) 40,630
Circuit Court Judge (5th)
Raymond Joseph Kane Jr.* unopposed
Circuit Court Clerk
Leslie J. Cale (D) 31,095
Margaret D. Rappaport* (R) 42,176
Paul L. Bush (D) 32,523
John W. Higgins (D) 29,823
Sharae M. McNeal (D) 34,627
Charles M. Coles Jr.* (R) 32,589
James R. Patterson (R) 29,694
Joyce Pope* (R) 36,332
Register Of Wills
Patricia S. Gordon (D) 32,180
Kay Hartleb* (R) 39,069
Board Of Education
Glenn Amato 22,016
Sandra H. French* 44,823
Laura Waters 28,588
Arthur Neal Willoughby 24,050
George L. Layman (D) 6,419
Christopher J. Merdon (R) 9,141
C. Vernon Gray* (D) 8,938
Susan J. Cook (R) 5,931
Guy Guzzone (D) 7,463
Wanda Hurt (R) 5,322
Mary C. Lorsung* (D) 9,026
Gregory Fox (R) 6,493
Debra Ann Slack Katz (D) 6,598
Allan H. Kittleman (R) 11,509 Pub Date:
Pub Date: 11/04/98