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A diverse group is vying for Harford executive post


From a Republican small-town mayor who wants to hold Harford's top elected office for years to come, to a Democratic former U.S. Senate staffer who aspires only to mind the store until the 2006 election, the field of eight people vying to become the next county executive is a diverse lot.

The list includes a clown named Bobo.

Although Bobo's candidacy was dismissed as a prank, the others whose names were revealed Tuesday expect serious consideration when the County Council votes July 5 to choose a replacement for the departing executive, James M. Harkins.

"The purpose was satisfied. There is a legitimate pool of candidates to run for office," Councilman Richard C. Slutzky said yesterday of the council's effort to design a procedure for selecting the new executive.

The candidates who submitted letters of intent to the county are David R. Craig, mayor of Havre de Grace; Susan B. Heselton, a former councilwoman; Gunther D. Hirsch, a former council president; Thomas Edward Norris II of Bel Air; Frederick H. Ritzel Jr. of Street; Lucie L. Snodgrass, a former Harkins staffer and former aide to Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland; and Charles J. White Jr. of Bel Air.

Craig, Heselton and Ritzel are Republicans. Hirsch, Snodgrass, Norris and White are Democrats. The seven-member council has six Republicans.

Harkins is leaving at the end of the month, 16 months before his second term expires, to take over the Maryland Environmental Service. He was summoned to the job by his friend and political ally, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

While the council's choice is expected to have an edge when the 2006 election rolls around, at least one candidate has no interest in running next year. "I don't want someone to come in and take this for granted, like he was getting the keys to his father's convertible," Snodgrass said. "I truly see it as a caretaker position."

By contrast, Craig has been gearing up to run for county executive for some time and has said he has raised more than $100,000.

"My intention is to run in 2006, no matter what happens with the appointment of someone to fill in for Harkins," he has said.

In keeping with the procedure approved by the council this month, a candidate must be nominated by a council member at the July meeting. The council will vote on the nominee. The first nominee to receive a majority vote from the council is the new executive and starts the job the next day.

In the meantime, council members can gather information to help them decide, from talking with candidates to consulting with one another, Slutzky said.

Councilman Robert G. Cassilly said he will talk with council members, candidates and residents. He acknowledged the pressure on the council, which is directed by the county charter to choose a replacement for an executive who departs in midterm.

"Granting someone that much power, I'd like to see it decided by the whole county instead of the council," he said.

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