Don't count state Sen. J. Robert Hooper among those taking sides in the Republican primary election.
The two-term senator from northern Harford said he doesn't agree with the decision of his colleague, Sen. Nancy Jacobs, to endorse one of three candidates vying for County Council president. He said he was approached by another candidate for support but declined.
The candidates "are some high-quality folks, some good thinkers, but at this point they're going to have to prove themselves," Hooper said in a recent interview. "There's not a terrible amount of difference in where they're coming from and where they want to go to. That's not enough for me to jump in and pull the race one way or the other."
Hooper said the announcement of Jacobs' decision to endorse candidate Aaron Kazi - a day after Kazi announced that a former operative for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had joined his campaign - had the potential to turn the race into a jockeying for endorsements rather than a discussion of issues or the candidates themselves.
"When you do that, you set it up so everybody is looking for an endorsement," he said. "Once you get through the primary, you can endorse whoever you want. Then it's down to two people going for it. But right now, let the people get out there and work for it."
Kazi, 37, and Billy Boniface, 42, a horse breeder from Darlington, are seeking to unseat four-term councilman and incumbent President Robert S. Wagner, 49, in the primary. The winner would face Democrat Charles J. White Jr., 35, a county treasury employee who applied to be county executive last summer.
Hooper said Boniface approached him for an endorsement, which he declined. But Hooper didn't object to Boniface's endorsement from Del. Barry Glassman, he said, because the two are longtime friends, and Hooper said he agreed to wave campaign signs on area roads alongside Boniface.
For many seats this fall, the primary election could be the key race. The county's voters have been trending Republican, which has spawned multiple races with three or more GOP candidates. In some of those races, no Democrat filed, though the county central committee later nominated a candidate in each race.
The county's GOP hierarchy traditionally lies low until a candidate for the general election emerges. Harford's Republican Central Committee has a long-standing policy of not supporting candidates in the primary, though its members can individually back candidates.
"We don't get involved in the primary. We want to unify after the primary," said William G. Christoforo, chairman of the central committee.
Kazi, who owns a Baltimore information-technology business and is a relative newcomer to the county political scene, received a boost last month when he began appearing at campaign events with Joseph F. Steffen Jr., a former Ehrlich aide.
The governor fired Steffen last year after he acknowledged spreading rumors on an Internet chat site about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is challenging Ehrlich's re-election bid.
But Kazi said Steffen is regarded by conservatives as a "hero" and has energized his campaign. The next day, Kazi received Jacobs' support to add to a long-standing endorsement from Del. J.B. Jennings, another former Ehrlich aide.
"I like [Kazi's] views on things, as far as less government and being loyal to the governor on certain things," said Jacobs, who is running on a slate with two candidates for the House of Delegates. "This has more to do with supporting the governor and the county executive."
Hooper said service and character - not connections - should be the deciding factors for voters.
"Most of the people running this year have not paid their dues," he said. "They have not been out there on the trail, supporting other candidates of this sort. With Kazi, I think he worked for Ehrlich's campaign last time [Kazi was appointed to Ehrlich's transition team in 2002, and his company designed his Web site], but I hadn't heard of him.
"Name-dropping doesn't impress me, for the most part. I like to see where they're working from and where they're coming from. "He may have been helping out Ehrlich's campaign, but he wasn't doing anything out here."