You could hear the voice, but the candidate was nowhere to be seen.
The voice was enough.
Standing less than 5 feet tall in heels, Joan Cadden was completely obscured by the podium at the Roland Terrace Democratic Club last month as she campaigned for a District 31 House of Delegates seat.
But as she joked about her height and prepared to introduce U.S.
Representative Tom McMillen, Cadden's voice -- high-pitched, steady and confident -- carried throughout the Brooklyn Park hall.
Finally, someone brought out an old-fashioned soapbox and the redheaded Cadden, a Brooklyn Park businesswoman and beautician, emerged.
"I'm not standing next to McMillen without that," said Cadden, ribbing both herself and the lanky, 6-foot-10 congressman.
During last month's Democratic primary, Cadden had no trouble being heard or seen.
The mother of four children, Cadden parlayed 20 years of activity with youth recreation leagues, various PTAs, civic associations and the county Board of Education into an impressive victory.
The former school board vice president led a crowded field of candidates, winning one of three party nominations to the Nov. 6 general election. She surprised many by capturing 572 more votes than the leader of the other two winners, incumbents W. Ray Huff and Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski.
Cadden, 49, campaigned on a platform touting her educational experience and her commitment to clean up the North County environment.
Cadden's controversial departure from the school board in 1988 -- the subject of newspaper headlines for more than a year -- helped get her name out before the public, observers said. But the real strength of Cadden's campaign was a volunteer organization that walked door to door day and night during the final weeks.
Rosemarie Church, a Democratic candidate who lost in the primary, said she and Cadden were running neck and neck for the third nomination behind Huff and Kolodziejski down the stretch. But, in the end, Cadden leapfrogged the others.
"She just networked with all the people she met through the years," said Church, the county's director of community services. "That's her grass-roots organization."
Coming from Brooklyn Park, where more than 50 percent of the registered Democrats voted in the primary, also helped Cadden, Church said.
"Brooklyn Park is the place to be from because they turn out en masse there," she said.
Cadden entered the political fray seven years ago, when she was appointed to the county Board of Education.
"There was a need for someone from North County to be on the school board," said Cadden, who was encouraged to run by County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, and outgoing board member Barbara MacCoy.
Cadden was the nominating convention's third choice for the open seat.
But North County lawmakers -- including then-Sen. Jerome F. Connell and then-Delegate Philip C. Jimeno -- lobbied Gov. Harry Hughes to tap Cadden.
Ironically, five years later, another nominating convention and a different governor would produce different results.
Cadden was the 1988 nominating convention's first choice to serve a second term on the school board. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- on County Executive O. James Lighthizer's recommendation -- passed her over in favor of Vincent Leggett, a former school system planner and then the director of the county housing authority.
Lighthizer readily admits that he pushed Cadden out because of "philosophical differences" over salaries for teachers and other school employees.
"Please don't interpret that as a criticism of Joan," Lighthizer said last week. "I like Joan, but I had basic philosophical differences with the whole board.
"When the governor gave me the option, I decided to make some changes."
Cadden, who still had the support of county legislators, says Lighthizer never forgave the board for pushing a 9 percent pay increase for teachers in 1987 -- at a time when the county administration insisted it could afford only 5 percent. The teachers got 5 percent but the following year signed a three-year contract calling for 9 percent annual raises.
"When she didn't get back on the school board -- which was real travesty -- I was terribly disappointed," said Lamb, a former school board member herself. "At that point, I encouraged her to get organized and run for public office."
During her five years on the board -- including two as vice president -- Cadden lobbied consistently to keep North County's small schools open and improve programs there. But her tireless work countywide won the admiration of her school board colleagues.
"She was, and still is, a businesswoman," said school board President Nancy Gist. "But I saw her reschedule (business) appointments just to verify walking distances and to listen to parents' concerns."
"She never seemed to tire," board member Dorothy Chaney said. "Her interest was unending."
"When she undertakes a task, it will be completed," former board member Jane Andrew said. "There is no question."