Stark differences in top Democratic candidates for Montgomery County Council

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Royce Hanson was born to an unwed mother at a church mission in Oklahoma City in 1931.

He was adopted as an infant and at age 7 moved with his new family to a log cabin in an impoverished corner of northwestern Arkansas, not far from where the founding family of Wal-Mart would get its start.

Craig Rice arrived to a much different world. It was 1972, Roberta Flack topped the Billboard chart, and his parents drove him from a District hospital to a modest single-family home in suburban Montgomery County.

The two men, with starkly different histories and professional experiences, are the leading Democratic candidates in a race for the sole Montgomery County Council seat with no incumbent running.

Rice gave up a chance to run for a second term in Maryland's House of Delegates to try to represent a sprawling district that covers more than half of the 495-square-mile county. Hanson ended his second stint as chairman of the county's planning board this year -- his first began in 1972 -- and jumped into an already crowded contest.

At stake in the Sept. 14 primary is a choice between generations of leadership, personal styles and governing philosophies that pit Hanson's decades of experience and expansive thinking against Rice's deal-making skills and political pragmatism.

Although the two men began life more than 40 years and 1,300 miles apart, their introduction to community work started in the same place: in homes with challenges and outward-looking parents.

Hanson's father served in World War I and had a fourth-grade education but made his way onto the school board in Arkansas (after another member drove his Model T into a ditch). In Oklahoma, Chester Hanson had helped with local campaigning and became a deputy county clerk responsible for court and land records -- the type of documents that would underlie his son's eventual work shaping land use.

Hanson's mother, Ila Mae, rallied other mothers in Arkansas to improve living conditions. "All the kids in the school drank from a common dipper in a single bucket," Hanson said, and the children kept getting each other sick. "By the second year we were there, every kid had his own tin cup."

Ila Mae also started a campaign to rid their tiny community of a bedbug infestation, persuading women to embrace a mattress-burning campaign. A Works Progress Administration mattress factory in a nearby town provided cotton and covers and allowed them to make their own replacements.

"She really was quite a remarkable woman. Watching her move and watching Dad deal with various issues got me very interested in public life and in politics," Hanson said. His father's work ethic and easy manner left an imprint.

"He was just really a very good, friendly man who was generally regarded as the best thing that happened to his boss," Hanson said. "He met people well. He had a very good sense of humor. And he was, in a very quiet way, I think, quite persuasive and charming."

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