Howard County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone said yesterday that because of family obligations he will not seek the Democratic nomination for county executive next year.

Instead, Guzzone, 41, said he will run for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 13 -- an office he described as having fewer time commitments.

Guzzone (Southeast County) had been the Democrats' presumed favorite to succeed James N. Robey, a Democrat who will finish his second term in 2006. But Guzzone said the care of his elderly parents and three young children prompted him to reconsider what probably will be a heated county executive race.

"I made a decision a long time ago never to let my own personal ambition get in front of my family," he said. "Finding that balance is what this is all about."

Guzzone, of Columbia, was elected to the County Council in 1998 and reelected in 2002. He has been council chairman since 2001.

His announcement was a surprise even to friends who knew he was increasingly concerned with his father's complicated health problems.

"I think it's been chewing away in his head and in his heart and in his gut, and he's kept it to himself," said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Columbia), who hired Guzzone as her assistant when she served on the County Council in the 1990s and is a neighbor.

Guzzone said he looked for an elective office with less time commitment and focused on the Maryland General Assembly seat held by Democrat Neil F. Quinter, who is running in the 3rd Congressional District represented by Benjamin L. Cardin. Cardin has announced he will run for the U.S. Senate to succeed Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland's senior Democrat, who is retiring after five terms.

Democrats lead among Howard's registered voters, but the party now has no clear contender in the race for county executive, a $131,966 post that has been held by both a Republican and a Democrat in the past decade. Republican Christopher J. Merdon (Northeast County), 34, a two-term County Council member, hired a campaign manager months ago, is raising money and expects to announce his candidacy in a few weeks.

Possible Democratic candidates for county executive include Courtney Watson, chairman of the Board of Education; Ken Ulman, a first-term County Council member representing western Columbia; and Howard Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay.

Guy Guzzone says he will run for a House of Delegates seat.