STANDING prominently in a bold, black, pin-striped suit amid Howard County's elected Democrats as they publicly endorsed U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for the U.S. Senate last week was an unelected, yet formidable, figure: the Rev. John L. Wright, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford.
The feisty clergyman served for more than seven years as chairman of the Maryland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from 1986 to 1994, after heading Howard County's chapter. But he enthusiastically endorsed Cardin over Kwesi Mfume, the former national NAACP director and the first to declare for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.
Cardin, at the endorsement gathering outside the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge, praised Wright's friendship and the "spiritual leadership" of his large church community.
Wright said later that Cardin's record of accomplishment, his quiet but effective work and his frequent contact put him in the congressman's corner.
"He's been working for me the last five to seven years. He stays in touch, not just when he's running for the Senate," Wright said, noting that he has received one phone message recently from Mfume, but had no contact with him during the former Baltimore congressman's NAACP tenure. "I've been close to Ben Cardin. To me that has a great impact."
Mfume may be an electric speaker, Wright conceded, but public service "is not based just on speaking. It's not always about speaking ability. It's what can be done."
Race is important too, he said, but just because Wright and Mfume are African- American does not mean automatic support.
"I do have a black agenda," Wright said, "but I'm not going to vote for blacks just because they're black."
Shane E. Pendergrass will take over next month as chairwoman of Howard's delegation to the House of Delegates, though the competition was less than fierce for a job with little prestige and lots of headaches.
"There was no fight," the three-term Democratic delegate said. "I've always done it when no one else wanted to do it. This is no exception."
What she means is that no other Democrat wanted to be chair, though she acknowledged that Republican Del. Gail H. Bates - one of two Republicans in the eight-member delegation - might have liked the job.
The post was available because the current chairman, Del. Neil F. Quinter, is preparing to run for Congress, seeking to fill the opening being left by Cardin's Senate bid. Quinter said the vote was 6-2, along party lines.
Buzz about Robey
The buzz about County Executive James N. Robey's political future is getting louder, perhaps because he's let it be known that he and his wife Janet are considering a lifestyle change - a move from the four-bedroom, detached house off U.S. 40 in Ellicott City that they have occupied since 1987 to something a bit more cozy, maybe on one level.
Where the Robeys live is of intense interest to county Democrats and Republicans alike - especially state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, whose District 13 seat could potentially be an outlet for Robey's political ambitions next year if he moves there from his home, which is in GOP-dominated District 9.
Schrader is a Republican in a district with three Democratic delegates, and the Democrats would love to capture her Senate seat to give their party control of the Howard County delegation to the General Assembly. Republicans hold two of the three Senate seats, but only two of the eight House of Delegates' seats.
"My wife and I have talked about downsizing," Robey, 64, said last week as he waited with other elected county Democrats to publicly endorse Ben Cardin for the U.S. Senate. "We're looking all over the county," he said, but the couple has not settled on a particular area.
The political poll Robey had taken recently gauged his popularity in District 9, covering Ellicott City and the western county, which is represented by state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman. Robey lost some western county precincts to novice Republican opponent Steven H. Adler in 2002 - before Robey's 30 percent increase in the county's income tax rate. Despite that, Robey insisted that "I did well," in the poll, though he refused to release the results.
Schrader, who is expecting a strong Democratic challenge next year, said she had not heard that Robey might relocate. "It's America. He can live wherever he wants," she said. She might even welcome the Robeys to her southeastern county district - as constituents.
"I have a very good working relationship with Janet. His wife is wonderful. I would hope that if he does move to District 13, that he becomes just a fabulous constituent."