Democrat C. Vernon Gray has held Howard County's District 2 County Council seat for so long that county Democrats may feel the east Columbia-Jessup district is theirs for the taking.
But two Republicans, Ananta Hejeebu and Raymond J. Bly, are also competing to replace the five-term veteran.
Three Democrats - Calvin B. Ball III, David A. Rakes and Michelle Williams are contending for their party's nomination.
The two Republicans offer GOP voters a very distinct choice.
Bly, 52, is a maverick - a longtime Jessup used-appliance dealer who sees himself as representative of the "mom-and-pop," older commercial culture in the U.S. 1 corridor - the one county officials are hoping will give way to more upscale businesses.
A Vietnam veteran whose wife is from Vietnam, Bly is also campaigning against what he feels is his unjust conviction 15 years ago on child abuse charges involving a Vietnamese teen-age girl who briefly came to live with his family. He wants to draw attention to both issues, he said, and acknowledges he has little hope of winning the election.
Hejeebu, 36, represents the newer wave of young suburbanites who have come to Howard County in recent years. Armed with degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration, he now wants to get more involved in community and public affairs.
Hejeebu came to East Baltimore from India as an infant. He grew up around Baltimore's Patterson Park, and has lived with his wife and two young sons in Montgomery Meadows, near Route 100, for the past four years - half of his time in Howard County.
"I paid my way through college selling books door-to-door," and later sold computer technology, he said, so he does not expect his name to hold him back in this first political venture.
'Bullish and optimistic'
A chance encounter with Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, helped pique his interest in running for office, and after a few months of research, he is ready to go, he said.
"I've sunk my roots here. I'm really bullish and optimistic," he said, adding, however, that problems - from fear of crime in Oakland Mills and Long Reach and the needs of older schools to speeding traffic in residential neighborhoods - need attention.
"I'm going to compete aggressively," he said, from waving signs on the street to going door-to-door. "I'm not plugged in to the political machine," he said, and although the district has more registered Democrats than Republicans, he believes his independent approach will win votes from members of both parties if he gets the nomination.
Politically, he is a centrist, he said, who has voted for candidates in both parties over the years. Personally, "I'm persuaded that the very best way to help people is conservative, not with big government," but his goals are the same as those of Democrats, he said.
Howard Republican Party Chairman Louis M. Pope said the party is not supporting Bly because of his criminal conviction. "If I lived in the 2nd District, I would be supporting Ananta," Pope said. "He is a very sharp candidate, very knowledgeable."
Bly has operated a used-appliance store in a small, cluttered building in the 8000 block of U.S. 1 in Jessup since 1977, he said.
Normally wearing a dark baseball cap emblazoned with "Vietnam Veteran" in gold letters, Bly is eager to talk about the two perceived injustices that he says have driven him to become a candidate: pressure to "revitalize" U.S. 1 and his conviction 15 years ago on child abuse charges.
"I am tired of this county trying to run us poor citizens out of town, to rezone our properties and tax us to death," he says on one of his two Web sites. He feels the county's campaign to revitalize U.S. 1 is merely a thinly disguised attempt to run all the old-time "mom-and-pop" businesses out of the commercial corridor.
And the "new" people coming to live in expensive new homes can just "live somewhere else" if they "don't like people working on their cars, old houses and some trash lying around in the yard. Stop allowing the busybodies from controlling our lives," he said.
Bly said he welcomes public scrutiny of his other cause, his conviction for abusing a Vietnamese teen-ager who lived with his family for a few months in the mid-1980s. He was sentenced to three years of probation in the case, but appealed his conviction until his last appeal was dismissed in 2001.
He denies that he was guilty of anything, and said that one of his aims as a county councilman would be to vote against all police, state's attorney and judicial budgets "until they change their ways."
'I will clear my name'
"I was completely, beyond any doubt, convicted illegally," he said, though admitting that "there's no way I can ever prove I'm innocent" to other people. "It's an allegation you can never disprove," he said, adding that he is determined to keep trying. "I will clear my name before I pass on."