Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, whose goal was to control the forces that made her county the fastest growing in Maryland in the 1980s, saw her effort come crashing to an end yesterday.

Republican Charles I. Ecker, a retired school administrator and political newcomer, clinched his upset victory when the counting of absentee ballots left him 450 votes ahead of Bobo.

She became the latest Washington area politician to be toppled by voter frustration over a development boom that produced crowded schools and congested roads.

Like neighboring Montgomery County, Howard County translated its growing pains into a vote of no confidence in its chief executive. But unlike fellow Democrat Sidney Kramer in Montgomery, who was ousted in the primary, Bobo was thwarted in large part by an influx of young Republican residents and a strong GOP get-out-the-vote drive.

Bobo ran into trouble because she tried to stake out the middle ground between developers and residents, and ended up alienating both. She pushed through a host of slow-growth measures, angering developers, many of whom had contributed to her 1986 campaign.

But it was those same developer contributions that many slow-growth civic activists felt made Bobo's actions suspect. They grew more suspicious when Bobo released a 20-year General Plan that called for greater growth at a slower pace.

Bobo accepted developer money again this year, saying that it in no way influenced her decisions and pointing as evidence to her efforts to control growth.

"She tried to please everyone, but when you please everyone, you please no one," said Beverly Wilhide, a county business leader who supported Bobo in 1986 but worked for Ecker this year.

"People really do not want someone in government who will try to be politically astute and appease everyone. They want leadership," Wilhide added. "That is one of the strengths I saw in {Ecker} that I saw disappear in Ms. Bobo."

Although Ecker did not run on an anti-growth platform, he was able to use his role as a political outsider to cash in on voter impatience with problems brought on by explosive development.

Ecker said yesterday that he would support a simplified version of Bobo's "adequate public facilities" proposal to restrict development near overburdened schools and roads. Ecker also said he would act to extend a controversial limit on building permits if the new law is not adopted by March, when the limit is scheduled to expire.

"It's overwhelming to wake up and realize the responsibility and trust the voters have put in me," said Ecker, who at 61 was running for public office for the first time.

Bobo, 46, had about as much money left in her $150,000 war chest, $30,000, as Ecker had lent to his campaign. Ecker raised only about $66,000.

Some observers said it might be difficult for Ecker to live up to the expectations of the opposing factions who supported him.

"Everyone thinks they've got a winner in Chuck, and he's going to find it is equally difficult for him," said Ron Schimel, a county lawyer and business leader.

During the campaign, Ecker repeatedly painted Bobo as part of the Democratic establishment that has been in power in the county for many years. He said that if voters didn't like the county's congested roads and crowded schools they should blame the Democrats.

He also took Bobo to task for a spending record that saw the size of the county's operating budget grow by 88 percent in four years while the population grew by 19 percent.

Bobo rarely counterattacked, opting instead to emphasize her record and her plans for channeling development. As a result, Ecker rarely was forced to offer specifics on how he would better manage growth or cut spending.

The tactic, Bobo conceded yesterday in a news conference outside her Columbia home, "happened to dovetail nicely with the anti-incumbency sentiment. It was either a stroke of genius or of good luck."

"We were determined it was going to be a positive campaign," she said, struggling to remain composed.

Meanwhile, a buoyant Ecker wasted little time letting people know about some of his ideas of governing. He promised Saturday office hours; said he will fire the county's controversial planning director; and pledged to remove the parking meters outside the county administration building because "people should not have to pay to come to the government."

He even likened himself in some ways to Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) and his "do it now" style of governing. But, Ecker quipped, "I probably can control my temper a little better than he."

Ecker, who drives a drab green 1972 Chevrolet Malibu convertible with more than 200,000 miles on its odometer, said he expects a short honeymoon with the voters of Howard County.

"We face serious problems. And I have to hit the ground running," he said.

Ecker said he would push to limit the increase in real estate assessments at 5 percent and thinks the school system is top-heavy in administrators.

Ecker's election to Howard County's top post is a surprising turnaround for someone who spent seven years as the number two administrator for county schools until he retired last year.

But then, Ecker's background and 36-year career as a teacher and school administrator is in some ways just as surprising: Neither of his parents attained a high school diploma, and by his own admission the Westminster, Md., native was never an outstanding student.

He began teaching in Carroll County schools because of his desire to coach sports. In one year, he coached soccer, basketball, baseball, and track and field in the same season.

"We didn't have athletic directors in those days. We didn't get paid for coaching. I did the scheduling, lined the fields, scrubbed the locker-room floors," Ecker said.

He joined the Howard County administration ranks as a director of transportation in 1960. "The year before, there was a terrible bus accident in Garrett County and the state legislature mandated that every county had to have a transportation supervisor," he said.

After a stint in Prince George's County as an assistant superintendent, he went to Howard County as deputy superintendent in 1974. There, he said he learned a valuable lesson about managing government, something he said Bobo forgot with her insular approach to governing.

"Too often -- and I was probably guilty of this years ago -- when you get in the central office, you think you have all the wisdom. But the longer I was in the central office the less I knew.

"That's one reason I always sought out the teachers. They were on the firing line, they know what will work and what won't. I've learned it doesn't hurt to listen to other people," Ecker concluded.

Staff writer Fern Shen contributed to this report.