Since Hurricane Katrina devastated large swaths of the Gulf Coast, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has been trying to make sure everyone knows he's on top of the issue.

In the past two weeks, Duncan has taken a leading role in everything from organizing local relief efforts to helping promote Democrats' charge that the Bush administration's response to the disaster was inadequate.

In a few cases, some are beginning to wonder whether Duncan, a likely candidate for governor, has gone too far.

Shortly after the storm hit, Duncan deployed nearly 100 county firefighters and police officers to the region to help in search-and-recovery operations and to back up the New Orleans police and fire departments.

But on Monday, Duncan upped the ante by sending Fire Chief Thomas W. Carr Jr., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger and Homeland Security Director Gordon Aoyagi, along with their top deputies, to New Orleans.

The public safety leaders, who went to the region Tuesday on a flight chartered by Lockheed Martin, were to provide on-the-ground support to the county officers and firefighters already in the region and offer even more support to New Orleans officials in the future.

The decision to deploy the entire Montgomery County emergency management brass prompted one council member to ask, "Who is left at home?"

"Unless we have been requested, it is not helping to send these individuals," said County Council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County).

Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At large) defended the trip, saying it will help local emergency management leaders prepare for a local disaster.

"If you are in the disaster-prevention business, this is the opportunity to go to postgraduate school right now," Leventhal said.

In the past three weeks, Duncan has spent much of his time on hurricane-related efforts, said David Weaver, his spokesman.

Duncan ordered county agencies to make plans to house up to 1,000 evacuees. A week ago, he organized a conference call with other county leaders to gripe about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to the crisis. Another conference call was scheduled for yesterday.

"Frankly, I was disappointed and concerned about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina," Duncan said after the meeting. "Federal law enforcement agencies were there for Montgomery County when we were dealing with the sniper incident, and because we all worked together, we apprehended the two men responsible for those murders. But if we can no longer count on quick assistance from FEMA and other agencies, we need to reevaluate our plans."

Questionable Polling?

A year before the Democratic primary, the possible District 17 race between incumbent state Sen. Jennie M. Forehand and Cheryl Kagan appears to be well underway.

Several voters in the district, which includes Rockville and Gaithersburg, say they received phone a call recently from a pollster asking questions about the race. The voters say it amounted to a push poll, where the questioner asked leading questions and sought to spread unflattering information about Forehand.

But it remains unclear who is behind the poll.

Kagan wouldn't comment directly on her campaign strategy but said, "People have been working on my behalf to get information.

"We have been doing a lot of research as part of our exploratory campaign," Kagan said.

Either way, the poll surprised some voters who received it.

"I was a little put off that we would have this type of polling down at the state [senate] level," said Jim Reschovsky, a Rockville resident who received a call. "You kind of expect it at the national level, but I found it somewhat distressing that that kind of politics occurs on the local level."

A few people who received the call said the poll questions implied that Forehand was ineffective. One of the questions asked voters whether they prefer "an energetic Kagan or a Jennie Forehand, who has been in office for 28 years," according to someone who received it.

Another suggested that Kagan, who represented District 17 in House of Delegates between 1995 and 2003, had a stronger record on abortion rights than Forehand does. There was also a question, according to a voter who received the call, that suggested Forehand used "perks" because she gives out legislative scholarships. Most members of the General Assembly give out the state-funded scholarships.

Forehand criticized the poll, saying it "distorted" her record.

"I think our constituents deserve better," Forehand said. "I hope we can stick to the issues with no distortions."

Said Kagan: "When people do polling, they ask questions about all candidates' records and discuss positions and fact-based voting records. Senator Forehand has a 28-year record of casting votes on issues and there are some votes that people find quite surprising and distressing."

It's a Wide-Open Field

The 23 voting members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee are scheduled to vote on a successor to retiring Del. John A. Hurson (D), who represents District 18, on Oct. 11.

So far, party leaders say, at least six candidates have entered the race. The winner's name will be forwarded to Ehrlich, who usually rubber-stamps the decision.

Karen Britto, chair of the central committee, said it's too early to tell whether any of the six contenders has the upper hand. But the jockeying to represent the district, which includes Kensington and parts of Silver Spring, has begun.

One candidate, Jeff Waldstreicher, 25, says he has received letters of support -- which do not necessarily equate to formal endorsements -- from the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, the Sierra Club and Equality Maryland, a gay-rights organization. He's also been endorsed by council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).

Another candidate, Adam Luecking, has the backing of Melanie Miller, who is the daughter of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).

County Cable Administrator Jane Lawton, who is also in the race, has been endorsed by Esther Gelman, a longtime Democratic activist and former County Council member.

Also running is Michael Griffiths, a dentist who is past president of the African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County. He said it's time the central committee support more minority candidates.

According to party officials, the other known candidates are Samuel L. Statland, a member of the county Board of Elections; Vic Weissberg, a member of the Democratic Central Committee; and Al Carr, a member of the Kensington Town Council.