For 'Jay' Riley, Election Win Is 'now Or Never'

October 17, 1990|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,STAFF WRITER

James J. Riley says this is his last hurrah.

It's now or never. This one's for all the marbles.

A veteran of four previous unsuccessful campaigns, the Republican candidate for a District 31 House of Delegates seat says he can't stomach another defeat, another disappointment. What's more, his wife of 32 years says she can't take it, either.

"I can't do this anymore," said Riley, 55, of Severna Park. "I've been a bridesmaid too many times. It's time to catch the bouquet and go to the altar."

During the last 12 years, Riley has waged four emotionally and financially consuming campaigns for House of Delegates, County Council and Congress.

His narrow loss in a divisive 1986 House of Delegates race may have been the most difficult. The retired social studies teacher finished fourth, trailing incumbent Democrat Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski by only 155 votes.

"Now that I'm retired, my wife wants me to spend more time with her," Riley said. "But I came that close -- I have to give it one more shot."

Riley said he will do whatever it takes to win the election this time.

And he began by switching parties.

A member of the Severna Park Democratic Club for nearly two decades, Riley had run in the last four elections as a Democrat. But last June Riley entered the race as a GOP candidate -- a move that initially drew criticism from both parties.

Riley readily admits he switched parties to avoid a hotly contested Democratic primary.

"It would have been like entering the ring with (former heavyweight boxing champion Mike) Tyson," Riley said. "I couldn't win that contest.

"Many people who spent $30,000 (on their campaigns) came away with air.

The same thing would have happened to Riley."

Instead, Riley -- who frequently refers to himself in the third person -- didn't spend a dime on his primary campaign, relying instead on his name recognition from previous elections and constant roadside campaigning. In the primary, he finished ahead of three avowed Republicans, edging Pasadena resident Douglas Arnold for the top spot by 35 votes.

"It was closer than I thought it would be," Riley said. "But, since I'm a new Republican, I have to be satisfied."

Republican Party officials have since embraced Riley officially.

"People were annoyed at first that he ran as a Republican," said Mary Rose, outgoing chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee. "But it's fair. Once they win the primary, they deserve the stripes. He's one of ours and he's doing his job."

Sen. John Cade, R-Severna Park, Anne Arundel's highest-ranking Republican, was supposed to speak at Riley's fund-raiser this week. The influential legislator backed out unexpectedly, saying he had a prior engagement.

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, said Riley has become "somewhat of an opportunist. He's willing to do anything to get elected."

Trevor Kiessling, a Democratic delegate candidate who lost in the primary, said he doesn't believe Riley's party-switching strategy will succeed. "Not many people in either party like that," he said.

Although Riley placed first among the four Republicans in the primary, "Look at who the contenders were," Kiessling said. "They didn't really have a field."

"I'm sure he'll see some resentment from both (parties)," said Charlie Vane, vice president of the Severna Park Democratic Club and a Riley supporter. "He's a friend and neighbor so I'm going to back him anyway, though I've never backed a Republican before in my life."

The son of a U.S. seaman, James Joseph Riley was born at a San Diego, Calif., naval hospital in 1935. He counts among his earliest memories the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"I was 6 years old and we were coming back from the rodeo," Riley said.

"I remember someone getting on the bus and saying the Japanese had attacked."

The Riley family settled in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore City in 1948.

No sooner had the family unpacked, then Riley's father, who had gone no further than the sixth grade before he enlisted, earned his high school degree. Then, in 1955, the elder Riley received his degree in romance languages from Johns Hopkins University.

"My father always preached education," said Riley, who followed his father's footsteps and graduated from Towson State College in 1959.

Riley met his wife, Irene, while he was a lifeguard at a Brooklyn pool.

"She looked good in a bathing suit and we just started dating," he said.

A geography major, he went to work in the Baltimore City schools as a history and government teacher.

"I was a strict authoritarian teacher," said Riley, who retired last year. "If I gave you a 300-word composition as punishment, that was admission to my classroom. If you didn't have it, do me a favor and don't come back.

"I did that for 30 years. While the Baltimore City schools were falling apart, there was education in my classroom."

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