Republican Charles I. Ecker's surprise victory in the Howard County executive's race makes big winners of County Council members Charles C. Feaga (R-District 5) and C. Vernon Gray (D-District 3).

Feaga, who often found his land-use and tax proposals largely ignored by the council's 4 to 1 Democratic majority, may have gained important allies in Ecker and council newcomer Darrel Drown, the Republican who defeated Angela Beltram in District 2.

At the same time, the council's new 3 to 2 Democratic majority is likely to make the independent-minded Gray the swing vote on many major issues.

"I can't predict how people will vote, but Angie {Beltram} certainly was an important vote . . . she's a great loss," said County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass (D-District 1).

Gray, who occasionally has been at odds with County Executive Elizabeth Bobo (D), plays down his potential role as a swing vote. "That's good talk, but I'm going to continue to base my decisions on what's good for the county as a whole," he said.

Added Feaga about the new council line-up: "I'd feel a whole lot better if Dennis Schrader {the Republican who lost to Pendergrass} had won."

Ecker already has indicated support for Feaga's proposal to limit the annual increase in property tax assessments at 5 percent.

Ecker also appears to be backing some of Feaga's land-use stands. For instance, Ecker said he opposes a Bobo proposal to force developers to cluster development in the county's rural west. He agrees with Feaga that clustering should remain only an option.

Ecker has joined Feaga in suggesting that a proposed green belt in the center of the county serve as a transition area between the county's rural and suburban halves and not as a barrier to development. And he has urged simplifying Bobo's proposed "adequate public facilities" plan, which would restrict development near crowded schools and congested roads.

"It's amazing how attitude and disposition can do wonders for a working relationship," Feaga said.

To win Democratic support for a tax assessment limit, Feaga said he may seek a compromise to allow assessments to grow by 6 or 7 percent a year.

The state allows taxable assessments to grow no more than 10 percent a year, and counties can set lower limits.

"I've never been against 6 or 7 percent before, but no one asked me about it," Feaga said.

Feaga said he expects Ecker to work well with the new council because the incoming county executive is willing to listen to many opinions.

Ecker said he will establish several committees to address the county's most controversial issues.

For instance, he said he will ask the County Council to convene a spending affordability committee to recommend budget limits.

He has proposed creating a citizens' advisory committee to oversee police activities.

And he said he hopes a transition subcommittee headed by house builder Harry "Chip" Lundy will help resolve differences over the adequate public facilities proposal.

"I would hope to have developers involved in developing an adequate public facilities ordinance and the so-called no-growth people," Ecker said.

Bobo criticized such consensus-building during the campaign, arguing that the county would lose valuable time addressing problems while it tried to reconcile opposing views.

Pendergrass said she sees the need for public input but fears the council could lose its growth-control momentum if Ecker makes too many changes in the Planning Department or delays implementing changes called for in the General Plan, the county's recently adopted 20-year blueprint for growth.

Ecker has already vowed to fire the county's planning director. And he has said there probably isn't time to rezone the west before the ceiling on building permits is lifted.

"In the short term, we could lose a year of getting growth under control," Pendergrass said.

Susan Gray, a slow-growth activist, said that though she finds Ecker a "complete mystery," she is optimistic.

"At least he seems like a person of integrity, someone inclined to reasoned accommodation, someone who will try to listen, who's going to be up front about things," she said.