"Who is Arthur Neal Willoughby?"
That's the question written at the top of the Howard County school board hopeful's literature and one voters asked themselves during yesterday's primary when they knocked the seldom-seen Willoughby out of the nonpartisan race, leaving two board candidates standing: Courtney Watson and Barry Tevelow.
Those two will go on to vie for the single available board seat, being vacated by Board of Education Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchart, in the general election Nov. 5.
In a race where visibility largely determined outcome, Watson - who has been knocking on doors since she announced her candidacy April 2 - is the clear favorite after getting nearly two-thirds of the votes. Tevelow came in second with slightly more than a fifth of the votes, and Willoughby was last.
"I'm gratified," Watson said. "I'm really happy that my message is getting across to voters."
Watson, who has three children in Howard County schools, built her campaign around three goals: attracting and keeping better school staff, improving long-term planning and increasing collaboration between the board and the community.
"She's had some good ideas about limiting class size and keeping integrity in the school system, meaning all schools follow the same standards, and it's not just the one school in the rich area getting all the good resources," said Carl Updike, who voted for Watson.
Updike and his wife moved to Howard County from Prince George's County after their first child was born, in large part because of the school system's reputation, even though their two children are still too young to attend school.
"We bought a townhouse in Ellicott City because of Centennial's test scores," he said. "Test scores say a whole lot. Well-rounded students are great, but colleges still look at test scores."
Tevelow, who has two children in Howard County schools, said his focus is on leadership that takes the community's views into consideration, uniform policy enforcement, and keeping the budget centered on the schools.
"I voted for Barry Tevelow because he sent me e-mails," said Michael Parella, treasurer of the Thunder Hill Elementary School's PTA. "I read them, and I agreed with the majority of what he had to say."
Willoughby, whose biggest concerns are closing achievement gaps among students and providing adequate pay for teachers, was conspicuously absent along the campaign trail, missing several opportunities to speak at public forums.
And though it seemed that name recognition helped him with waffling voters - this is his fourth bid for a school board seat - it wasn't enough.
"[My wife and I] dropped Willoughby from the list right away," said Martin Gordon, the chief polling judge at Phelps Luck Elementary school. "We didn't really know anything about him."
But Willoughby is taking it all in stride.
"I'm looking forward to race No. 5," he said, adding that he might try for a higher county office of some sort down the line.
Meanwhile, Watson is looking forward.
"We have a long way to go before the general election," she said. "Primary turnout is usually only 25 percent; the election turnout is as much as 80 percent [of registered voters]. You never know, things could change, so we're just going to keep working hard."