The special election to succeed Montgomery County Council member Betty Ann Krahnke is being contested by a diverse field of candidates with the stage set for the winner to play a pivotal role in deciding several key county issues.

Nine candidates--four Democrats and five Republicans--are campaigning to improve education and transportation in a county whose population is approaching 1 million residents.

Krahnke (R-Potomac-Bethesda) has held the District 1 seat since it was created in 1990. Now, a year into her third term, Krahnke plans to step down in April because she is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Though representing one vote on the nine-member council, the victor could help decide issues affecting taxation, transportation and the poor on a panel that frequently splits 5 to 4. Reductions in the local income tax rate could hang in the balance, as could the fate of the so-called living wage legislation that would require many companies to pay their workers a higher minimum wage.

The new member could represent a step closer to or further from building an intercounty connector (ICC) linking Interstates 270 and 95 north of the Capital Beltway. The same holds true for a proposed light-rail line linking Bethesda and Silver Spring--a project that would run through the center of the district.

The race will be a dash to Tuesday's primary. Most council district races cost about $25,000, but those familiar with this race say the winner could spend four times that amount on mailings, signs and other tactics.

On the Democratic side, Patricia S. Baptiste, a former Montgomery County Planning Board member, is making a second try for a council seat after losing an at-large race in 1998. Baptiste, 58, has received Krahnke's endorsement despite her party affiliation. She holds many of the same positions, including opposition to a light-rail line linking Bethesda and Silver Spring and the ICC. She favors reducing the local income-tax rate and is undecided on living-wage legislation.

"We come from the same civic roots," Baptiste said of Krahnke.

She is facing well-financed competition from Roger Berliner, a Washington lawyer and former congressional staff member who has the endorsement of the county's largest employee union and key civic activists in North Bethesda and Friendship Heights.

Berliner, 49, would build the ICC and the light-rail line. He does not favor a tax cut but would support a version of the living-wage bill. He is alone among candidates in pledging to challenge the state's ability to prevent counties from regulating firearm sales. He would introduce a bill to impose licensing and training requirements on new handgun owners.

"The gun manufacturers' nightmare is a proliferation of local ordinances," Berliner said. "We should give them their nightmare."

Former county Democratic Central Committee member Tony Puca is relying on his roots to win the nomination. He has spent 26 years doing volunteer work with the developmentally disabled and the elderly. Puca, 51, opposes the ICC and supports the light-rail line. He would push for school renovations and new recreation facilities.

"I've been able to do more for people not in office than those in office," said Puca, a life and health insurance agent.

Ilene S. Solomon, a special education teacher, rounds out the field. She did not return several telephone calls for this story.

On the Republican side, former state senator Howard A. Denis, who left office in 1994 after 18 years to wage an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, plans to emphasize his experience. Denis, 60, supports the ICC but opposes the light-rail line. He said he would not support a tax cut until he was sure the school district was receiving enough money to attract qualified teachers, modernize buildings and shrink class size.

"If it's a question of $50 a person or better math teachers, you have to go with education," said Denis, who also was endorsed by a county union group.

He faces Mary Kane, 37, a GOP activist who runs George W. Bush's presidential campaign in the county. Kane, 37, favors the ICC but would not build the light-rail line. She would vote to reduce the income tax rate and opposes living-wage legislation. Schools would be her biggest focus.

"I was shocked to learn that Montgomery County was Number 3 in the state [in education], especially with all the money we pay for county taxes and state taxes," Kane said.

North Bethesda lawyer Casey Aiken, 47, is pledging to improve the transportation network and the school system while also cutting the local income tax rate. He supports the ICC but is undecided on the light-rail line.

"Social policy should be secondary," Aiken said.

Community activist Sharon M. Constantine, 46, is campaigning to make government more accountable in land-use policy. She has been active in opposing the sale of closed county public schools. She is undecided on the ICC and opposes the light-rail line.

And Scott Dyer, 21, a graduate of Montgomery College and a Walt Whitman High School alumnus, would concentrate on education issues. He favors living-wage legislation and would avoid tax cuts. He opposes the ICC but supports the light-rail line.

"I'm worried that the county hasn't put enough money in for school renovations, gyms and teacher raises," Dyer said.

The general election is April 18, and the compressed schedule favors established candidates who will not have to create an organization or campaign fund from scratch.

Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1 among the district's more than 100,700 registered voters.

1st District

DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

Patricia S. Baptiste

Age: 58.

Residence: Chevy Chase.

Education: JD, Georgetown Law; BA, Rosemont College.

Occupation: Attorney.

Elected offices/civic activities: Chevy Chase Village Municipal Board; board member, Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission; chairman, Friendship Heights Coordinating Committee; Capital Crescent Trail Board; Civic Federation Land Use Committee.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you? "My 16 years in public service in Montgomery County, including seven years as a member of the planning board, and my lifetime of commitment to family and our community, uniquely qualify me for the council. My reputation for hard work, through preparation, openness to all opinions and fairness in making tough decisions is well-known. My record on integrity, experience and independence from narrow special interests will continue on the council. There are many issues the council must confront--education, transportation, choices, economic development and neighborhood preservation, to name a few. I will seek innovative solutions, through thoughtful decision-making for the public good."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I am for intelligent growth to promote sustainable communities, safe schools with smaller classes, ballfields, bikeways and inexpensive and convenient public transportation."

E-mail address: Baptiste2000@yahoo.com

Roger Berliner

Age: 49.

Residence: Potomac.

Education: JD, McGeorge School of Law; BA, Dartmouth College.

Occupation: Lawyer; founding partner, Berliner, Candon & Jimison, P.C.

Elected offices/civic activities: Board of Trustees, Maryland Democratic Party; sponsor, Montgomery County Democratic Forum; board of directors, Search for Common Ground; coach, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Baseball Inc.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you? "Our community is most fortunate. We're able to make the essential investments in transportation, education, health care and recreational facilities critical to improving the quality of life in Montgomery County. We have the means. Do we have the will? Too often the larger public interest is sacrificed in favor of narrow interests. We need to end political gridlock and find common ground for the common good. That is my commitment. After 28 years of service to the Democratic Party, I believe I am the best candidate to serve our community on the County Council. I ask for your vote."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I define public service as being in-service to our community's highest aspirations. Working together, united in purpose, we can achieve consensus and move forward."

E-mail address: Berliner4Council@yahoo.com

Tony Puca

Age: 51.

Residence: Bethesda.

Education: BSBA, University of Maryland.

Occupation: Life and health insurance agent, president, Professional Benefit Group.

Elected offices/civic activities: Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee; member of executive board, state Democratic Party; member, Montgomery County Recreational Committee; athletic director, Developmentally Disabled for Potomac Community Resources; coached 22 girls recreation and middle school athletic teams.

Family: Married; four children.

Why should the voters elect you? "When a candidate asks for your vote, they should have done something to deserve your consideration. In the past 26 years, I've given thousands of hours to serve the people of the county through my coaching girls athletic teams, running athletic clinics for the developmentally disabled, raising money for the Scotland Community Center, equipping the Rockville Senior Centers computer lab, working with planning and zoning boards to keep our area beautiful and environmentally safe and many others. If I can help so many people without being in office, I believe I'd be able to do far more if I'm in office."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I've raised four beautiful daughters living in this county, and I'm running for this office to keep the county as beautiful as it is."

E-mail address: Tonypuca@aol.com

Ilene S. Solomon

Age: 55.

Residence: Bethesda.

Education: MA, American University; MA, George Washington University; BA, University of Maryland.

Occupation: Teacher, Maryland Clinic.

Elected offices/civic activities: Representative, Western Area Advisory Board of Montgomery County Recreation Board; founding member, University of Maryland Alumni Club for Arts and Sciences; County Council candidate in the 1980s; president, Columbian Women of George Washington University.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you? "I believe that we need more female candidates in the political arena. I am not biased against males, but I am jealous of countries that have had female leaders for centuries, as: England, Holland, India and Israel. We need to show people around the world that women in America are well-educated and willing to stand up for our beliefs and our country. We have made it possible in America for women to enter historically male professions, and women can stand up and be counted as leaders. Montgomery County, Maryland, is a great place to be living."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I've grown up in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area. I attended and teach public and private schools. I have three local college degrees."

1st District

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Casey Aiken

Age: 47.

Residence: Potomac.

Education: JD, Potomac School of Law; MS, International Business, American University; BA, Colgate University.

Occupation: Lawyer, partner and founder, Moses & Aiken LLC.

Elected offices/civic activities: Leadership Montgomery; Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Committee, Rockville Chamber of Commerce; Georgetown Prep Board of Trustees; president, Georgetown Prep Alumni Association.

Family: Married; two children.

Why should the voters elect you? "The role of the County Council, as a municipal government, is to make sure that our children are educated, our highways have been maintained and our tax base is sound. There are critical issues of transportation, elementary education, college education and the need to lower taxes, which must be addressed. I will see to it that the Inter County Connector is built. I support the proposals of the new education superintendent to lower class sizes, but I am concerned about how to pay for them. I will advocate a repeal of the 'piggy back' tax increase."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I want to see better, smarter transportation; schools that work for students and provide a vision for the new Montgomery County and the new economy."

E-mail address: lopca@aol.com

Sharon M. Constantine

Age: 46.

Residence: Bethesda.

Education: BS, University of Maryland.

Occupation: Bethesda activist; part-time administrator.

Elected offices/civic activities: President, Maplewood Citizen's Association (1996-1998); executive board, Montgomery County Women's Fair (1999-present); vice president, Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women (1997-1999); Wyngate Elementary School School Improvement Committee (1997-present); elected church council member (1998-present).

Family: Married; four children.

Why should the voters elect you? "I have a strong record as an advocate for communities, working frequently with citizens, state and county officials, and testifying before government bodies on issues that affect our communities. As former president of Maplewood Citizen's Association and as a former small business owner, I have gained extensive experience on public school, transportation, and business community issues. I am a proven leader, elected to serve on various community organizations. As a council member, I will protect the public process, and I will ensure that public facilities will be available for public use instead of for private interests."

What would you like voters to know about you? "As a community Republican known for leading my community in a fair and open manner, I will bring an independent voice to local government."

E-mail address: scon46@hotmail.com

Howard A. Denis

Age: 60.

Residence: Chevy Chase.

Education: LLB, Georgetown Law; AB, Georgetown University; Bethesda Chevy Chase High School.

Occupation: Lawyer; staff director and counsel, D.C. subcommittee, U.S. House of Representatives (on leave for campaign).

Elected offices/civic activities: Maryland state senator (1977-1995).

Family: Married; one child.

Why should the voters elect you? "My experience reflects effectiveness. I can help Montgomery County in Annapolis and Washington, as well as Rockville. My mission for the future includes reversing sprawl and gridlock and enhancing educational excellence. Accountability, balance, common sense and prudent fiscal management are keys. Montgomery is part of the information technology high tech wave. We are ideally situated to lead. I am optimistic we will. My demonstrated leadership will help."

What would you like voters to know about you? "A sponsor of Maryland's Open Meetings Law. Plaintiff in historic case which opened up Maryland Legislature'sconference committee on budget. I have zest for tough issues."

Web site: votedenis.com

E-mail address: wisedenis@worldnet.att.net

Scott Dyer

Age: 21.

Residence: Bethesda.

Education: Montgomery College, Rockville Campus; Walt Whitman High School.

Occupation: Computer software programmer and developer, self-employed.

Elected offices/civic activities: None.

Family: Single.

Why should the voters elect you? "I'm concerned most with the important issues that affect all residents of District 1. I support the living wage, tax cuts, sensible limits on growth, and full funding for, and complete restoration of, the historic Glen Echo Park. I'm committed to the environment, to ensure that all residents enjoy clean air, pure water, and access to public parks. I will make it a top priority to develop the strongest and best public school system in the nation here in Montgomery County. I oppose the county's closed school policy. I also want to work to solve the county's severe transportation gridlock."

What would you like voters to know about you? "I pledge to be the voice of the people on the council. To that end, I'm not asking for any financial contributions to my campaign."

Web site: dyer2000.tripod.com

E-mail address: dyer2000@usa.com

Mary Kane

Age: 37.

Residence: Potomac.

Education:JD, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America; BA English, BS business and finance, Mount Saint Mary's College.

Occupation: Full-time mother

Elected offices/civic activities: U.S. Senate staff member; government affairs specialist, National Trade Association; activist on local, state and national Republican campaigns; legislative chairperson, Maryland Federation of Republican Women; member, Potomac and Chevy Chase Women's Republican clubs.

Family: Married; three children.

Why should the voters elect you? "The first question I will ask myself each time I am confronted with an issue on the Montgomery Council will be, 'How does this affect the families of Montgomery County?' As the mother of three children, I am concerned about the quality of life for our future generations. I will fight for more police on our streets, fight to make our school system the best in the state, ensure that growth is managed effectively and reduce congestion on our local streets and highways. I will support the Children First Initiative and continue in Mrs. Krahnke's fight against domestic violence."

What would you like voters to know about you? "As the child of immigrants, I value hard work and honesty. I will use these qualities to ensure our quality of life in Montgomery County."

Web site: www.marykane.org

E-mail address: marykane@marykane.org