Exec Race: Who's More Ordinary? Sophocleus,neall Present 'Humble' Images To Voters

September 13, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich

Don't expect a lot of excitement out of the general election race for county executive.

Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus and Republican Robert R. Neall officially began their fall campaigns by taking swipes at each other after winning their parties' nominations Tuesday night.

But the November election could be decided on which man better impresses the voters with his overwhelming ordinariness.

"He's going to put himself forward as a people's candidate, a people type, and I'm going to share with the voters that my background is every bit as humble as his," Neall said yesterday, after trouncing Glen Burnie restaurateur and slot machine advocate William J. Steiner by 15,154 votes to 1,714.

Neall, a former House of Delegates minority leader and, more recently, the state's first drug policy coordinator, described a match that sounds like it could serve as lyrics for Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

"He ran a mom-and-pop pharmacy; I ran a mom-and-pop grocery store," Neall said. "He did it for 10 years; I did it for 20. If you look at our backgrounds, I'm every bit as typical as he is. He went to a little elementary school in Baltimore; I went to a little three-room brownstone school in Davidsonville.

"Who's the most ordinary candidate?"

Among four Democratic contenders, Sophocleus proved himself far and away the most ordinary and the most successful, capturing almost a 2-to-1 win over his nearest rival, former Annapolis mayor Dennis M. Callahan.

"Ted just had a tremendous showing. I had no idea of the depth of his support," said Callahan, who lost his bid for re-election as mayor in the primary last year. "He invested the time and effort during the last eight years, attending every community meeting there was."

In fact, Sophocleus, a two-term County Councilman from Linthicum, dominated throughout the county, losing only 23 of 133 precincts. His only weakness was in the sixth councilmanic district -- including Annapolis -- where Callahan won 13 of the 24 precincts.

With only 995 absentee ballots uncounted, Sophocleus won a a total of 18,096 votes (43 percent). He was followed by Callahan, with 10,113 votes (23 percent), and Glen Burnie Councilman Michael F. Gilligan, with 8,871 votes (20 percent).

Former Epping Forest state Delegate Patricia Aiken's grass-roots campaign for the environment was a distant fourth in the race to succeed outgoing executive O. James Lighthizer, who is barred by the county charter from seeking a third consecutive term. Aiken won 5,386 votes (12 percent).

Sophocleus' support was so widespread that Gilligan held the loyalty of voters in only one precinct in his district.

"The voters have signified their preference and I accept their decision," Gilligan, a two-term councilman, said Tuesday night when he conceded defeat. "As a lifelong Democrat, I will support Ted, and will work in whatever way I can for a Democratic victory."

Sophocleus attributed his win to his pledge to open government to the people. He built his campaign around a promise to create a number of citizens' commissions to guide his administration, including one on budget priorities.

Sophocleus was able to overcome a last-minute surge of support for Callahan from the Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government, which ran advertisements in local newspapers this past weekend singling out Callahan as the only candidate who "has supported meaningful tax cuts."

Sophocleus and Gilligan waged their own war for support from public employee unions. Gilligan captured the endorsement of county teachers and Sophocleus earned the loyalty of utilities, public works, detention center and other workers.

Sophocleus won his most important vote of confidence from the local Sierra Club, followed by the Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun and The Capital.

Gilligan was endorsed by retiring Councilwoman Carole B. Baker, D-Severna Park, who cited his support for saving trees and controlling growth in her district. Council chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, also granted Gilligan a form of environmental absolution, praising his backing of farmland preservation in South County.

Clagett was one of the first to congratulate Sophocleus Tuesday night, arriving at his celebration at the Odenton Fire Hall without awaiting the official results of her lopsided primary victory.

"I wanted to give (Gilligan) his due," she said, "but at the same time, I appreciated Ted working for seniors down in my district."

As the Democratic candidates failed to distinguish themselves from each other on most issues, the election came down to voters choosing the one they felt most comfortable with.

The general election promises to be a different story, however, as Neall prepares a detailed attack on Sophocleus' record, casting him as a council incumbent who failed to control growth and taxes.

"One of the things Ted has to answer for is eight years in a prone position relative to the Lighthizer administration," Neall said. "Where was Ted in terms of these double-digit budget increases? Maybe Ted can enlighten us on when he was converted to (tighter budgets). I think it was sometime after the (primary) filing deadline."

Sophocleus also laid down a challenge to Neall Tuesday night, insisting that he answer for votes against critical areas legislation protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

"Mr. Neall's already come out heavy on the side of developers," he said. "It's going to be a major factor. People want controlled growth, a strong drug program and strong environmental programs. I think we offer that."

Staff writer Elise Armacost contributed to this story. Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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