County Council member David A. Rakes (D-East Columbia) might have incurred the wrath of his fellow Democrats this week for backing Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) for council chairman. But Rakes said he's not jumping the party ship permanently.

Rakes said his decision to back Merdon over Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) had more to do with management and leadership style and less with party ideology. Rakes said he plans to seek reelection as a Democrat and doesn't portend alliances with Republicans on issues.

"That will be on a case by case basis," Rakes said.

Rakes joined Merdon and member Charles C. Feaga (R-West County) in the 3 to 2 vote to elect Merdon chairman Monday night. Whatever the vote might mean to Rakes, the county's Republican leadership was gleeful.

"I'm excited," said Republican Chairman Howard Rensin, who said he hoped Rakes's support of Merdon might entice other black County residents to the Republican Party. He said Democrats have long "taken the African American vote for granted."

Rakes said he was irritated by Guzzone's failure to step in and help resolve a dispute between him and council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) several months ago over how many housing units should be permitted in the rural west and the county's east.

"We needed a change," Rakes said after the vote.

This year, Rakes was scolded by the county's ethics commission, but cleared of any wrongdoing, for voting to approve a liquor license for his campaign treasurer. The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor is said to be examining the matter.

Wendy Fielder, chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said Monday that Rakes had harmed his future with Democrats by voting for Merdon this week. "He was upset that we didn't rise to his defense," she said. "He ended his political career tonight with the Democratic Party."

There is at least one sign the Republican-Rakes coalition will continue to have an impact. Rakes introduced a bill Monday night that would ban smoking in new restaurants and bars but continue to allow it in 63 establishments that provide separate smoking areas to comply with a 1996 law. A more sweeping measure, sought by County Executive James N. Robey (D), would ban smoking in county eateries but would have given those with separately ventilated smoking areas until 2008 to comply.

Rakes's measure drew immediate support from Feaga and Merdon. His bill and Robey's will come to a vote next month.

Barth Throws Hat In

Andy Barth, a veteran Baltimore television reporter, announced Monday that he will join the crowded field of Democratic candidates trying to succeed Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).

Barth, 59, who retired Friday from a 35-year career at WMAR, said decades of covering politics and consumer issues in the 3rd Congressional District -- which includes Baltimore and parts of Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties -- have familiarized him with problems and concerns in the area.

"Often a candidate, when he starts out, says he will go on a listening and learning tour of the district," Barth said. "Well, mine's been 35 years."

Barth said his main campaign issues will be support for measures to shore up private pension funds and advocacy for a "well-planned and orderly withdrawal" from Iraq.

"There never was an adequate reason to enter this war, and there is no longer an adequate reason to continue it," he said.

Barth, who lived in Columbia for 34 years, moved to Fulton three weeks ago to establish residency in the 3rd District.

"I have not held public office. I am not a career politician," he said. "I think that's an asset. I think people are more than tired of partisan gridlock and name-calling."