The Democratic Party won back control of the County Council yesterday as Democrat Guy Guzzone defeated Republican Wanda Hurt in the crucial swing district of southern Howard, and the two Democratic incumbents from Columbia won re-election with relative ease.
The results amount to an utter disappointment for Republicans, who also lost the county executive's race yesterday. The Democrats appeared to benefit from high voter turnout, but also capitalized on the departures of all three GOP council incumbents and, to some degree, this year's heated education budget battle between Republicans and the school system.
"This just means the positive agenda will prevail," said Guzzone. "Better schools, better growth control and better public safety protection. I think we've got a great team. We're going to work well together."
The pivotal race was in District 3, where Guzzone, a former Maryland director of the Sierra Club, won in apparently convincing fashion -- 58 percent of the vote with 14 of 16 precincts reporting. He called for slowing residential growth, improving compensation for police officers and spending more on education. He also repeatedly criticized this year's small income tax cut, taking a chance that voters would rather have seen more education spending than lower taxes.
Hurt's loss was the second election disappointment for her in four years. The former PTA activist ran as a Democrat for the House of Delegates in 1994 but failed to win the primary. She switched to the GOP after that election and appeared to have a strong chance of winning this year with the support of the incumbent Republican councilman, county executive candidate Dennis R. Schrader.
But Republicans believe that Hurt and Schrader were at least in part the victims of a strong Democratic wave statewide. Democrat James N. Robey, the former police chief, defeated Schrader in the executive's race.
Still, the other two races for open council seats were easy victories for two Republicans who advocated slowing the pace of residential growth and rejected developer contributions in two of the most growth-sensitive districts in the county.
In District 5, western Howard, attorney Allan H. Kittleman defeated Debra Ann Slack Katz, a registered nurse, in a battle between candidates from two well-known families. Kittleman, the 40-year-old son of Del. Robert H. Kittleman, had 63 percent of the vote with 16 of 18 precincts reporting, against the Democrat, of the Slack Funeral Home family.
In District 1, Ellicott City and Elkridge, 27-year-old software developer Christopher J. Merdon had 59 percent of the vote, with 17 of 19 precincts reporting, against limousine driver and Board of Appeals member George L. Layman.
The remaining two council races, both in solidly Democratic districts encompassing much of Columbia, went to the Democratic incumbents.
In District 2, east Columbia, C. Vernon Gray won his fifth consecutive four-year term on the council, capturing 60 percent of the vote against former school board member Susan J. Cook, with 18 of 20 precincts reporting.
In District 4, west Columbia, Mary C. Lorsung was heading for a second term with 58 percent of the vote, with 19 of 21 precincts reporting. Lorsung's challenger, Republican Gregory Fox, ran an energetic campaign but failed to win over a still-liberal district.
The Democrats are expected to help the Democratic executive-elect, Robey, follow through on his campaign promises, including better pay for police officers. The Democrats may also push for a change in affordable housing policy. All three Democratic council winners said at a June forum that they would support requiring more moderately priced housing in future developments.
But there may be conflicts. On the critical issue of growth, for example, council members may want to move further than Robey to curb home building.
Pub Date: 11/04/98