The list of potential replacements for former state delegate Van T. Mitchell (D-Charles), who resigned to become deputy state secretary of health and mental hygiene, doubled in length last week.

As of Friday, three additional Democrats had stepped into the ring, joining Charles County commissioners President Murray D. Levy, former delegate Samuel C. "Buddy" Linton and Charles County Fiscal Services Director Richard A. Winkler.

Consultant Gary V. Hodge and Waldorf businessman Gaylord Hogue contacted the Democratic Central Committee to apply, while Reginald Kearney, a Baptist minister, confirmed in an interview that he also is pursuing the post.

The 12-member Charles County Democratic Central Committee decided last week to set Tuesday as the deadline for applications. The committee plans to interview candidates in a closed session Friday in La Plata and choose a replacement the same day. The winning name will be sent to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who makes the appointment. The Central Committee took the lead role because the vacant seat was occupied by a Democrat.

For Hodge, 55, of Waldorf, the opening provides a second chance at trying to become a delegate. He fell short in the Democratic primary two years ago. Hodge served as the executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland for 18 years before starting a consulting firm in 1999. In his work at the council, an organization of Southern Maryland county commissioners and state legislators, he said he helped secure more than $200 million in funding to improve the water quality of the Patuxent River. He also helped organize the state tobacco buyout program, which has paid tobacco farmers to transition to other crops.

"To be effective, you've got to build coalitions, alliances and partnerships with other leaders," he said. "What I bring to the table is 25 years of real experience in Annapolis. . . . This is a job I'm ideally suited for."

Hogue, 57, a horse farmer and former telecommunications executive, sees Mitchell's departure as an opportunity to take Charles County in a different direction. Among his goals is to develop Routes 210 and 5 into bustling business corridors so residents do not have to leave the county to work. He also wants the growing black community in Charles to have more representation in local politics.

"Charles County hasn't changed in years," he said. "Minorities have no participation in government. We need a person with a different concept of how to run a government."

Hogue criticized his party in a recent e-mail, calling on blacks to be more active in politics and "stop cowering down to this racist Democratic machine." His comments were criticized by Democratic Central Committee member Robert Foster at last week's meeting and by committee Chairman Edith J. Patterson, both African Americans. In a letter to the Maryland Independent last week, Patterson described Hogue's racism charge as "absurd and insulting."

Kearney, 47, an associate minister at Zion Baptist Church, agreed that more diversity is needed in local government but said a candidate should not be chosen simply on the basis of race.

"I want to get selected not just because I'm an African American," he said. "I want to get selected because I'm qualified for the job."

He said his qualifications include community activism through his church and as a member of the Charles County Board of Social Services. Kearney said the most pressing issues in the county are traffic congestion and need for better infrastructure. If chosen, he vowed to fight for funding for the Waldorf Bypass around Route 301.

"I'm going to continue on in my political career," said Kearney, who has run twice for county commissioner. "I saw this as a good opportunity to throw my name in and see what happens."

At their meeting Tuesday at the American Legion Hall in La Plata, Democratic Central Committee members discussed the implications of their upcoming decision. Frank H. Lancaster of Cobb Island urged the committee not to disrupt county government when making its choice -- in effect lobbying against Levy, who heads the Board of Commissioners.

"We do not want to leave our county vulnerable," he said. "That which is possible is not always acceptable."

Mary Ann Grooms of White Plains responded that the committee "can't worry about the domino effect."

"This is a great opportunity to position Democrats for the future, rather than trying to keep everything stable," she said.