- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

The race for the coveted Bethesda-Chevy Chase seat on the Montgomery County (Md.) Council seems less about political parties than about issues and reputation.

Democratic contender Patricia S. Baptiste has the endorsement of Republican incumbent Betty Ann Krahnke, who is vacating the District 1 seat today. Both share a commitment to historic and community preservation through slow growth.

Republican contender Howard A. Denis, a former four-term state senator, is backed by the teachers union and Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller, who had never before supported a Republican in 25 years of public service.

"They're both longtime activists in Montgomery County and in these parts of the county," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who supports Mrs. Baptiste. "It's a situation where you have two very good people."

The polls open for the special election at 7 a.m. tomorrow.

Of the 101,000 registered voters in District 1, 53 percent are Democrats. But this densely populated, affluent area has a history of crossing party lines. That's how Mrs. Krahnke was elected to three terms.

Mrs. Krahnke is in the advanced stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the degenerative neuromuscular illness commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The winner will complete the remaining 2 1/2 years of her term.

Seven Democrats dominate the nine-member council, though one of them, Marilyn Praisner, often sided with Mrs. Krahnke and the other Republican, Nancy Dacek.

Turnout is expected to be low, as the election falls in the middle of spring break and only this race is on the ballot. More than 1,000 absentee ballots have been requested.

Both candidates ran unsuccessfully for at-large council seats in 1998.

Mrs. Baptiste, 58, defeated three other Democrats in the March 7 primary, earning 55 percent of the vote.

Her resume brims with community involvement, most notably seven years spent on the Montgomery County Planning Board. She has made that the cornerstone of the campaign.

"It is a get-out-the-vote campaign," said Mrs. Baptiste. "We're running on a positive message" of community, environment and schools.

Mrs. Baptiste is counting on the heavy Democratic numbers in the district, along with Krahnke Republicans and independents, to carry her.

"Pat Baptiste is a Democrat and I'm a Republican, but good government transcends party lines," Mrs. Krahnke said in her letter of endorsement.

The Democrat opposes the sale of closed public schools and promises to protect streams and monitor air pollution in areas of heavy pedestrian use. She favors growth in areas where there is existing and planned infrastructure.

After a count of absentee votes, Mr. Denis edged out fellow Republican Mary Kane by 143 votes in the primary.

Aside from his years in the Maryland Senate, Mr. Denis, 60, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994 with Republican Helen Delich Bentley and worked as campaign chairman for Rep. Constance A. Morella, now one of his backers.

Since 1995, Mrs. Morella has worked on Capitol Hill with Mr. Denis, who is counsel to the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on the District.

Mr. Denis touted his experience at working across party lines and insists he can call upon a "network of friends to ensure top dollar" for Montgomery County.

He is counting on votes from those who supported Mrs. Kane and Roger Berliner, Mrs. Baptiste's closest competitor in the primary. Mrs. Kane has gone so far as to turn over her headquarters to Mr. Denis.

The fiscally conservative Republican supports tax credits for the working poor in place of a "living wage." He considers traffic congestion one of the major problems facing residents.

"We cannot allow our future to idle away in clogged rush hours," said Mr. Denis, who is riding a specially equipped campaign bike around the county in these final pre-election days.

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