Blue Collar Work Ethic For Jimeno Senator Described As Behind-the-scenes Leader

October 26, 1990|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Philip C. Jimeno once carried the maverick banner.

But, in this fall's race for the District 31 Senate seat, the incumbent Democrat has been cast as part of the old guard while his Republican opponent, Delegate John Leopold, has been tagged the maverick.

Jimeno, who was appointed to the Senate in 1985, said he's still running on the same platform -- family values and community involvement -- that carried him and Walter Shandrowsky into the House of Delegates 12 years ago.

"There is no issue in our (Senate) race," the Brooklyn Park resident said. "It's not as if I have had a terrible voting record."

The only difference, he said, is Leopold's unexpected entry into the Senate race. For three years, Leopold had been running for county executive. He had amassed a huge cache of campaign money and earned widespread name recognition among voters in that race.

But the two-term delegate decided last spring that he could not defeat Robert Neall in the GOP primary for county executive. Then he set his sights instead on Jimeno's Senate seat.

Since entering the race, Leopold has attacked Jimeno as being ineffective and a rubber stamp of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's "tax and spend" reign.

Jimeno said he works well with Schaefer -- who has campaigned for Jimeno this fall -- but also has opposed the governor's appointments to the county Board of Education and pet projects such as the handgun ban and last year's unsuccessful "snack tax."

"If anything over the years, I've been known for my individuality," Jimeno said. "If I feel strongly, I hold to my convictions."

Jimeno, 43, is the son of a West Virginia coal miner. Growing up in an economically depressed coal town, he had few political ambitions. The one thing he knew he wouldn't do -- work in the mines.

"My father wouldn't allow it," Jimeno said. "I remember him coming home at night, coughing and spitting (from the coal dust). When he used to visit us here (in Brooklyn Park), he had to use a breathing machine."

A young Jimeno worked at a car wash and as a janitor at a dry cleaning store to pay his way through Fairmont State College. Graduating in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in business administration, Jimeno married Ramona Gregory, an underclassman from Brooklyn Park.

He managed the car wash until Ramona earned her teaching degree a year later. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services hired him as parole and probation officer and the young couple moved to Glen Burnie and finally settled in a three-bedroom rancher in Brooklyn Park.

In 1972, Jimeno volunteered to dress up for the Arundel Improvement Association's annual Santa Claus program. And, he began coaching his son's Little League team, winning two championships in 12 years.

Becoming more and more involved, his activism spilled over into the political arena. He joined the Roland Terrace Democratic Club in 1975.

After he ran unsuccessfully for an at-large delegate's seat to the 1976 Democratic National Convention, Jimeno helped reorganize the Greater Brooklyn Park Council and was drafted as its president. "Nobody else would take it to be honest with you," he said.

Whiling campaigning for a seat at the Democratic convention, Jimeno met Pasadena resident Walter Shandrowsky, who had made one unsuccessful bid for House of Delegates in 1974 and planned a second run in 1978. Shandrowsky encouraged him to run for one of the State House seats, too.

Trevor Kiessling, an out-going member of the Democratic Central Committee, said, "You know, how you hear the rumblings of 'throw the bums out' this year? We had that in District 31 in 1978. He came on as the fresh face. He was the new hope."

Jimeno and Shandrowsky won seats in an election that saw all three incumbents lose. In 1982, Jimeno won re-election.

The Democratic Central Committee appointed Jimeno to the Senate in 1985 when state Sen. Jerome Connell was convicted of federal income tax evasion.

In the 1986 general election, he was unopposed for the Senate seat.

Jimeno has a reputation among his State House colleagues as a good-natured, "workman-like" lawmaker who shys away from the limelight.

They say his ability to cooperate with other legislators and the governor make him more effective than Leopold, whom they describe as a loner.

"John is reclusive," said Delegate John Astle, D-Annapolis, who chairs the county delegation. "In eight years, I've never had an in-depth conversation with him. We've never sat back for five minutes to shoot the breeze. Phil and I have."

A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Jimeno's credited with stopping the expansion of state prisons in Anne Arundel County and creating a maximum security unit for juvenile offenders in Baltimore County.

The senator has shepherded 11 bills through the General Assembly, including victims' rights legislation and anti-drug measures. As chairman of the Anne Arundel Senate delegation the last two years, he also has guided through eight bills requested by the Lighthizer administration.

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