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Horse breeder's election hopes ride on his name


With the deadline to file for this fall's elections a little more than two weeks away, Billy Boniface is months behind.

The 42-year-old has not held any fundraisers, and he just started sending out mailings. With his race likely to be decided in the Republican primary, he has just more than 90 days to make his case to Harford voters for the first time.

But Boniface, who has filed to run for County Council president, and his supporters know he has one intangible on his side.

Boniface is part of the fourth generation of a prominent county horse-breeding family, which, in some corners of Harford, is more notable than any elected position. If successful, he will join a long list of county politicians whose family tree boosted their public profile - an aspect of county politics that observers said is likely to change with continued growth.

"Name recognition is important, but politics are changing," said Henry Peden, a local historian and genealogist from the Harford Historical Society.

Throughout much of the past century, a prominent surname often led to an involvement in the community and connections that helped propel a candidate into office. Whether it was through agriculture associations or churches, "everybody knew you and your mother. You got told on if you acted up," Peden said.

Of course, political dynasties are not just a function of rural familiarity. President Bush is the grandson of a senator, son of a president and brother of a governor. Dozens of members of Congress have followed in the footsteps of relatives as well.

In Harford, two of the most prominent legacies have been the Tydings and James families. Former Democratic Sen. Joseph D. Tydings was the son of four-term Sen. Millard E. Tydings. As a Democratic state delegate, Mary-Dulany James works across the street from the James Senate Office Building, named after her father, William S. James, a former state treasurer and state Senate president.

Many others - from former Democratic Del. Barbara O. Kreamer to Republican Councilman Lance C. Miller - ran for office not with political pedigrees, but a reputation in the community forged by their well-known parents.

What is changing, said Avery Ward, a political science professor at Harford Community College, is the type of familiarity connection with those well-known names. The county's population has swelled by 60,000 since 1990, with a similar crush expected over the next 15 years as Aberdeen Proving Ground adds jobs.

"It used to be that voters knew the person better - they saw the person in different roles and saw a more complete person," said Ward, who is managing the campaign for Republican Del. Joanne S. Parrott. "Now you see a person at the Chamber of Commerce or neighborhood organization, where there's a more limited and specialized type of interaction."

Boniface, a Darlington resident, has been a recreation league soccer coach, a volunteer firefighter and an active member of the farm bureau.

"For those who don't know me, I'm one of you," said Boniface, introducing himself to voters at a candidates' night Thursday in Dublin.

Beyond the community, he is about to step down as president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, a position which has involved bitter squabbles in Annapolis over evening racing and the legalization of slot machines.

Horse breeding is in Boniface's blood. His great-grandfather, Fritz Boniface, was an English-born horseman who founded the county's horse breeders association as manager of Bel Air's Prospect Hill Farm.

Years later, grandfather William Boniface, a former racing editor for The Evening Sun, increased the family profile after a thoroughbred named Deputed Testamony beat 14-to-1 odds and won the Preakness in 1983. Boosted by the multimillion-dollar stud syndication of Deputed Testamony that resulted from the victory, the Boniface family moved its Bonita Farm to a 400-acre spread in Darlington in 1985.

Billy Boniface's late entry into the political race has drawn skepticism from some in political circles who question his desire to run. Boniface said his candidacy was spurred by, as he put it, "flustration" over the council's decision to strip out an agricultural liaison position from County Executive David R. Craig's budget.

"That really irked me. It showed me they've lost touch," he said.

As of last week, there was no Democratic challenger for the seat, leaving the race likely to be decided in the September primary.

Council President Robert S. Wagner, a Republican and 16-year veteran of the council, has the power of incumbency, while another challenger, Baltimore information technology firm vice president Aaron Kazi, has been stumping for months.

Then there's the power of "the name." Supporters are banking that Boniface's name recognition and years of work on farm and equine-related issues will help compensate for months of campaigning.

"We're short on time, but he's got pretty good name recognition," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican representing northern Harford and a longtime friend of Boniface. "It's going to be a 90-day rush to get funding and get his message out."


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