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Cooper Tapped To Lead Board

Name Forwarded To Governor

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page SM03

The Charles County Democratic Central Committee recommended Wayne Cooper (D-White Plains) to be the next president of the Board of County Commissioners, replacing Murray D. Levy, who resigned last month to become a member of the House of Delegates.

Cooper's name was forwarded to Gov. Robert L. Ehrich Jr. (R) on Monday for approval, and a formal decision is expected within a week, said Central Committee President Edith Patterson. The Democratic panel had interviewed Cooper and two other candidates: Gaylord Hogue, a horse farmer and former telecommunications executive from Waldorf, and Jack Hurd, a retired federal executive.

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Cooper, 57, of White Plains, was elected District 2 county commissioner two years ago. Before that, he had served as a member of the Board of Education for six years, including three years as chairman. He is the branch manager in the Accokeek office of WACO Inc., an environmental contracting company.

"When you look at all the management skills and the fact that he has tremendous support from the business and education communities as well as the citizens at large . . . we found he was an excellent candidate," Patterson said.

The commissioners president vacancy occurred after former delegate Van T. Mitchell (D) resigned from the General Assembly in September to become deputy secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Levy, who was in his fifth term as county commissioner, was selected by the Central Committee over five other candidates to replace Mitchell.

Several observers of county politics had considered Cooper the favorite to replace Levy because Hurd and Hogue have not previously held public office.

"I'm really thrilled. I'm very honored to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of Charles County," Cooper said. "There will be a transition period, but we'll make it through."

Cooper's selection means more change for the board because the Central Committee will have to repeat the process to fill his District 2 commissioner's seat if, as expected, Ehrlich appoints him to the president's post.

Some, including Cooper, have expressed support for Patterson -- a former school board chairman who works at the College of Southern Maryland -- to fill the opening. If selected, the Pomfret resident would become the first African American commissioner in the county's history. She recused herself from the vote on Cooper because she said she wanted to maintain the integrity of the process.

"The dynamic and demographics of the county have changed. There are a lot more minorities now. I think this is a good opportunity to put a minority in," Cooper said. "And I think [Patterson's] experience on the school board gives her an edge."

Central Committee members said they will not set a deadline to apply for the commissioner vacancy until Cooper has been approved by the governor. They will discuss the upcoming replacement process at a meeting Dec. 7.

Committee members interviewed the candidates behind closed doors Friday evening in La Plata. The committee did not reveal the vote count. Eight people voted -- there were three members absent, plus Patterson's recusal -- and it was not unanimous, members said.

"But Cooper certainly had the [vote of the] majority of the people present," said Gene Davies, vice chairman of the Central Committee.

During the interview, Cooper expressed some "independent ideas," said Davies, "not to follow the previous president's agenda totally."

"He indicated a great desire to get out and hear the voice of the people more," Davies said. "He wants to make it the people's agenda, rather than the commissioners' agenda."

Several local officials said they were happy with the choice.

"He was definitely the best person for the job. He'll do very well," Levy said. "He may not have the body of knowledge yet, but he clearly understands financial discipline. Where he may need some time is learning the issues. I've had 18 years to practice this; he's had two."

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