The Calvert County Democratic Central Committee has endorsed Sue Kullen, a political newcomer from Port Republic, to replace Del. George W. Owings III.
Kullen, whose nomination was delivered Friday to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), would be the first woman to represent Calvert County in the General Assembly. Ehrlich has indicated he will accept the Central Committee's selection for the House of Delegates vacancy.
"We made history tonight," Kullen said Thursday, after the Central Committee announced its decision at a public forum in Prince Frederick.
In selecting Kullen, the Central Committee passed over more experienced candidates, including at least two longtime Democratic officeholders. Kullen, a consultant who works with disabled people and agencies serving them, won out over five other applicants:
* Hagner R. Mister of Prince Frederick, a former state agriculture secretary and a former president of the county commissioners.
* Barbara A. Stinnett, a former county commissioner from Owings.
* Thomas M. Pelagatti, a Prince Frederick lawyer who is a former judge of the Orphans' Court in Calvert County.
* William Johnston III, a Huntingtown resident who has run for political office a number of times, including for county commissioner.
* David Van Hoy, a Huntingtown resident who worked as a real estate professional.
"All of them would have been good, but I'm happy for Sue," said Owings, who gave up the legislative post this spring after Ehrlich appointed him in March to be director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I think she'll do a fine job," he said.
Doris Spencer, who chairs the Central Committee, also lauded the choice. Spencer said she delivered the nomination Friday to the governor's office in Annapolis.
Kullen emerged as a compromise candidate after the Central Committee became deadlocked while in a closed meeting after the open forum, those familiar with the debate said. As a Central Committee member, Mister was allowed to vote for himself. But he chose not to attend the closed session.
The 10 committee members appeared in public after the closed meeting for a voice vote to nominate Kullen. Spencer said committee members wanted to give a "consensus vote to the governor."
Jackie Hawkins was the only member who did not publicly vote for Kullen.
"I feel like Tom Pelagatti was a better candidate," Hawkins said in an interview later.
The announcement that the Democrats had picked a relative political novice surprised many attending the forum at the Prince Frederick firehouse.
"When the announcement was made, I think people were pretty much stunned," county Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At-Large) said.
Democrats have said they want Owings's replacement to be a strong candidate to retain the House of Delegates seat in the 2006 election, when formidable Republican opposition is expected. One of those expected by many political observers to be a candidate is commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings).
Hale said Friday that he had not decided whether to run for the seat in 2006.
"Two years is an awful long time," he said. "I just don't know yet. It's a big decision. I like being a county commissioner."
However, Hale acknowledged that the departure of Owings -- who had appeal to voters in both parties -- makes the seat a Republican target. Owings was reelected in 2002 without a Republican challenger.
"With George no longer in that seat, we can certainly predict that the Republicans are going to want to go after it," Hale said.
In a statement during the candidates forum that preceded the Central Committee vote, Cullen described herself as "the freshest candidate up here. I came with no baggage."
The 44-year-old disabilities consultant, who served 10 years as a governor's appointee on the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, also said that "winning the election in 2006 is critical" to the Democrats.
After being nominated Thursday night, Kullen said she would start planning for the 2006 campaign immediately.
"I don't want to let anybody down," she said.