The Stakes Are High When The Sign Man Gets Paid

Leopold's Handyman Plants Signposts

September 28, 1990|By John A.Morris | John A.Morris,Staff writer

For the incumbent and his challenger, the upcoming general election is tantamount to war.

But for Richard Dennis Brinn -- an important part of Delegate John R. Leopold's bid to unseat Sen. Philip C. Jimeno in District 31 -- it's just another job.

Brinn isn't a high-paid political consultant; he's a handyman. Rather than political rhetoric and computer polls, his tools are a post-hole digger and a hammer.

Trading as the Pasadena Handyman, Brinn has made his living the last six years doing odd jobs. He paints garages, cleans gutters, rakes leaves and anything else a homeowner may need.

"I told one woman I'd even put a smile on her face," said Brinn, adding that his customers typically include senior citizens, busy professionals and widows.

For the last two months, the 40-year-old Pasadena resident has worked overtime erecting political campaign signs for Leopold. Leopold's campaign finance reports show the Republican delegate has paid the handyman $5,000 for his work so far.

"Putting up a sign doesn't take a whole lot of skill," said Brinn, a Democrat. "Once you do it the first three or four times, you are more or less a pro."

Brinn said he spends about five days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day, putting up Leopold's larger campaign signs. Since July, he estimated he has built, dug post holes and erected more than 400 signs.

"Leopold's campaign has taxed me," Brinn said. "I haven't been able to work for anyone else."

Brinn said he doesn't mind spending so much time on Leopold's campaign. His wife is in San Diego, attempting to adopt their first child, a baby girl from Mexico. He said the negotiations have been held up for several months by the Mexican government.

A life-long Anne Arundel resident, Brinn said he learned his trade growing up. His father was frequently away and his mother often worked 80 hours a week as a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, leaving him and his two brothers to mind the family home.

Brinn drove a truck for 10 years before he decided to become a professional handyman. "It's a growing field for anyone who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty or doing a job," he said.

Ironically, most of Brinn's customers come from Severna Park, Arnold and Millersville. "I guess the people who just moved to Pasadena have stepped into high payments and can't afford to pay someone else."

Leopold, who captured his delegate seat in 1981 by walking door-to-door and greeting commuters from roadside, first hired Brinn to help with his 1986 re-election bid. Brinn put up campaign signs while Leopold continued his populist campaign.

"Throughout my entire political career, person-to-person contact has been the spine of my campaign," said Leopold, who spent eight years in the Hawaiian legislature before moving to Maryland. But "in this North County district, campaign signs have long been a part of political life. When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Leopold may be the only Anne Arundel County candidate paying someone else to put up campaign signs, a fact that his Democratic opponent has raised repeatedly.

"I've always said this a campaign of money vs. people," said Jimeno. "He doesn't have any people."

Leopold, who runs his campaign from his Pasadena home, raised nearly $170,000 during the last three years in an unofficial campaign for county executive. He entered the Senate race in June after deciding he couldn't beat former Delegate Robert Neall in the Republican primary.

Jimeno ,who has $40,000 in his campaign chest, said volunteers erect all of his campaign signs. "I could never afford to pay anybody," he said. "My grandfather coordinates everything out of his garage."

Other Democratic and Republican candidates agreed that paying someone to put up signs is unusual.

"There's generally a paid effort if a campaign doesn't have any volunteers or it wants to get out a lot of signs quickly," said David Almy, Neall's campaign manager. "But if you wanted to get signs out quickly, you'd have to have a lot of crews.

"There's nothing illegal or immoral about it. It's just a question of strategy."

County Executive O. James Lighthizer, the outgoing Democrat, said paying someone to erect signs "is a waste of money if you can get someone else to do it for free. It just shows you that (Leopold) has a lot of money to spend."

"I hope we're never that desperate," said Alice Sophocleus, wife and campaign manager for Democratic county executive candidate Theodore Sophocleus.

Nonsense, Leopold said. "Keep in mind there are people who call me and ask me to put a sign in their yard," he said. "Who actually hammers the sign into the ground -- whether me or someone I pay -- is irrelevant."

Brinn did not want to comment about the controversy, but said Leopold has been a good customer.

"I haven't gotten any bounced checks from him," he said.

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