Reluctant Mediator Brought Order Out Of Gop Chaos

November 18, 1990|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Only a crazy person would have wanted the job Mary Rose inherited when she took over the county's bickering, bitterly divided Republican Party 1 years ago.

And only a crazy person would have believed she could emerge from that caldron of political infighting looking so good.

The Republican Party that last week won two council seats and the offices of county executive, sheriff and Clerk of the Circuit Court is not the same party that, in 1986, was more obsessed with nit-picking philosophical differences than supporting its own candidates.

It is not the same party that, in 1988, incurred the wrath of Republicans as well as Democrats when it circulated a letter linking former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis with rapist-murderer Willie Horton.

Neither does the Republican Party today bear much resemblance to the organization of many years ago whose election workers, says former U.S.

Congresswoman Marjorie Holt, used to tell voters not to register as Republicans because the GOP didn't stand a chance.

What's going on here? How, in less than two years, has the Republican Party evolved from a squabbling, strife-ridden underdog into a political heavyweight, strong enough to send the Democrats scurrying to devise new strategies for retaining power?

There is no single, simple answer to that question, Democrats and Republicans say. The county's shift from a labor-oriented to professional populace, the rise in Republican voter registration and an anti-incumbent mood at a time that most of the incumbents were Democrats all contributed to the Republicans' success on Nov. 6.

Still, GOP leaders agree that those advantages probably wouldn't have amounted to much if the Republicans hadn't first settled their differences and followed Rose's lead in changing the party's contentious ways.

Under former Arundel committee chairman Jim Wright, a fundamentalist Christian known for picketing an Annapolis bakery that sold X-rated cookies, the local GOP "was certainly one of the worst, if not the worst" in Maryland, said Joyce Terhes, head of the Maryland Republican Party.

Dominated by ultra-conservatives like Wright, the state and local central committees exhausted their energy on philosophical disputes and did nothing to field viable candidates.

"It became not a question of supporting Republicans, but a question of supporting only conservative Republicans," said Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville. "That really hurt. You have to be an all-inclusive party, or you're not going to succeed. But if you weren't conservative, if you didn't pass certain litmus tests, you weren't going to be supported and you might even be criticized."

Under Rose, appointed when Wright left the county in early 1989, the Republicans unified for the first time, working to recruit candidates, raise money and quell intraparty factions.

"Mary came into a mess," Gary said. "She came into a party that needed to be healed, was in debt and didn't know where it was going to get the money to pay off its debts. She healed the party. She was a calming, stabilizing force."

"One person does not make a party," said Terhes. "But when the infighting stopped, that allowed us to get the victories we won, and Mary was responsible for that."

Rose, a 44-year-old from Bay Ridge, has been a player on the GOP scene for 20 years. After co-chairing Reagan's 1980 Anne Arundel campaign, she was appointed to various administrative positions at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, then was made director of White House personnel and deputy undersecretary for management at the U.S. Department of Education.

Rose modestly directs credit for last week's Republican victories to County Executive-elect Robert R. Neall. She admits, however, that she "inherited a nightmare" and was "deserted" by her fellow central committee members after her appointment as chairwoman, which came just one month after she was elected to the committee.

"It was the worst job I ever had," Rose said. "I really didn't want to be chairman. I did it because there was so much trouble with the rightists.

I felt confident I was a good mediator and I would be able to to keep peace in the central committee. And I thought I might be able to motivate them.

But I couldn't motivate those people."

Rose said her predecessors failed to file financial reports with the election office and left her with a $2,600 debt. For months, she couldn't get enough committee members to meet to constitute a quorum. Last spring, no one would help her sell tickets for the party's annual Lincoln Day dinner fund-raiser, so she sold them herself.

Early this year, Rose formulated a plan for the November election. "I wanted to make sure there was not a race unopposed. I wanted someone to run against every Democrat."

With Neall a strong candidate for county executive, Rose focused on trying to break the Democrats' 20-year monopoly on the County Council. She ended with at least one candidate in all but one of the seven council districts.

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