Absentee ballots to settle races for council


Candidates in two close Howard County Council primaries are anxiously awaiting a count of absentee ballots today that could determine their political fates, while county Republicans hope their popular gubernatorial candidate has coattails.

Kenneth S. Ulman held a 40-vote lead over Mary Kay Sigaty in the unofficial election night tally for the Democratic contest in west Columbia, but several hundred absentee ballots remain to be counted.

Ulman postponed a two-day rest at Bethany Beach, Del., to join Sigaty to watch today's count, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. "We did our best to send absentee applications to people who wouldn't be in town. We did what we could," he said.

In the other close race, Republican Diane Wilson appeared to be the winner of her District 3 primary with Kirk Halpin - holding a 58-vote lead in the unofficial tally, with 52 absentee ballots left to count.

"This is a little too close for me," she said, adding that based on the initial tallies, "I'm delighted to be the candidate to run against [Democrat incumbent] Guy Guzzone."

Halpin wasn't conceding, he said, until absentee ballots are counted, though he agreed that "it is highly unlikely for me to get all 52 [absentee ballots]." If he loses, he will support Wilson, he said.

Victorious candidates were taking stock of the results from the primary election, which drew 27 percent of registered voters, as they begin planning for the shorter general election campaign, which ends Nov. 5.

Steven H. Adler, who won the GOP county executive nomination with 63 percent of the vote, said he was impressed with the aggressive campaign of his primary rival Clark J. Schoeffield, and hopes Schoeffield will join the general party effort.

"Clark gets an A for effort. I'd love to see him get engaged" in broader community and political endeavors, Adler said. Schoeffield did not return phone calls yesterday.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican gubernatorial nominee, "could carry Howard County by 60 percent," Adler said, speculating that Ehrlich's momentum, and Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's seeming weakness, could help county Republicans.

"I feel my endorsement from Ehrlich and [Michael S.] Steele will have an impact," Adler said.

But County Executive James N. Robey and state Senate candidate C. Vernon Gray, Democrats, disagreed.

"People thought [Ellen R.] Sauerbrey had coattails," Gray said, recalling her nearly successful gubernatorial campaign in 1994 and her second try in 1998.

Robey said he is not sure what, if any, effect Ehrlich's campaign would have on his contest with Adler.

"Maybe I'm just too dumb to understand what effect it could have. We had a brief meeting and talked about it. I'll continue to work hard. I'm not worried," he said.

Wilson is one candidate who, assuming her primary victory holds up, is looking for a double dose of party help in her campaign against incumbent Guzzone in District 3.

She has teamed with state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and hopes that connection - with support from a vigorous Ehrlich campaign - will help.

"I think Bob is doing very well. His momentum is continuing to increase, and that will help local candidates," Wilson said.

Guzzone was dubious, and he said a comparison of his primary results this year against 1998 is proof.

More Democrats voted this year than four years ago, he said, but fewer Republicans did. That bodes well for him, he said, and shows he is not as vulnerable as Wilson and the Republicans like to think.

"The numbers are good, but I'm going to continue to keep working even harder," Guzzone said.

"I'm not worried about Guy. Guy's done a great job down there," Robey said referring to the southeastern county district.

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