Neall Aide Talks Of Race Says He Favors Politics Over Press

November 19, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

As the race for county executive drew to a close, David Almy said he felt like he had fallen down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland.

For weeks, the campaign manager for Republican Robert R. Neall said he shook his head in wonder as Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus soared ahead in voter opinion polls, despite a state investigation into campaign finance fraud.

Sophocleus said he was trying to account for money raised in cake raffles. He said he divided up the proceeds among the seniors who turned out for his fund-raisers, in an attempt to bestow some "dignity" upon his supporters.

Five days before the election, the Office of the State Prosecutor filed a misdemeanor charge against Sophocleus' campaign treasurer, his daughter, for filing an inaccurate report.

One local newspaper ran the headline, "Sophocleus cleared of 'Cakegate' charge," worrying Almy that it would boost the Democrat's chances at the polls.

Now deputy chief of staff for Neall's transition government, he said he did not agree with local coverage of the campaign.

"The first thing you do when you sit down is say, 'Will this be a bad story or will this be a good story,' " he said Friday, sitting in his new office at the Arundel Center. "When you go on to talk about the treasurer being indicted, it really makes you scratch your head.

"It's just like 'Alice in Wonderland.' " That looking glass view of the press isn't new to Almy, who will turn 32 on Christmas Eve. He said that his disillusionment with journalism is largely responsible for his decision to get involved in politics.

Almy is a former reporter for aviation magazines and a 1986 graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism.

But his time at the New York school turned him from journalism to politics. He decided then that he was not interested in being a mere observer of events.

Not that politics was foreign to Almy. As a teen-age Young Republican, he did poll work for Congressional candidates, former President Gerald Ford and Marjorie Holt, former Republican congresswoman, when he wasn't shooting pictures for the school paper and yearbook.

After graduating from Severna Park High School, Almy studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. He worked for aviation magazines until he was accepted at Columbia.

On his first assignment to photograph and report on a test flight, he landed in Nevada with little money and no credit cards. Hitching a ride from the airport hotel, he wound up in the Reno desert next to Olympic hero and aviation enthusiast Bruce Jenner.

"He was, of course, in running shorts and a T-shirt, and I'm dying of heat in a 100-percent wool chalk stripe suit," Almy said.

By the time he was accepted at Columbia, Almy had established himself as an authoritative aviation writer.

But his experience at Columbia eventually soured his journalistic ambitions.

Early on, he was chastised for putting his own voice into his class assignments, beginning with a piece on an economic renewal in Hoboken, N.J.

"Hoboken is on the move," Almy recalled writing. He was asked by his teachers, "Who said you could write editorials?"

Almy said he found Columbia to be full of "left-leaning" journalists. He cited an incident that happened at lunch with with a classmate, a union activist in New Jersey.

"She said to me, 'I think the country would be much better off if Reagan had died in the assassination attempt,' " Almy recalled. "She was deadly serious, and it was said as casually as, 'Please pass the salt.' " Almy said he thought that Columbia lacked guidance on journalistic objectivity and that it conflicted with the criticism of his Hoboken story.

"If I couldn't write the way I wanted to write, then I would either not write or be an editorial writer," Almy said he decided. "I found that I was at my best either as an advocate or an adversary. Of course, that lands you into politics."

Almy worked a few months after graduation on Public Broadcasting System projects with Columbia professor Fred Friendly, the legendary CBS producer for Edward R. Murrow, before being called to work as Neall's finance chairman during his failed bid for Congress.

During lunch they established an immediate bond.

"He tied some cherry stems in knots and I turned my tongue upside down.

So I trumped him," Almy said. "He was very impressed."

After Neall's defeat in Nov. 1986, Almy worked as press secretary for U.S. Representative Edward R. Madigan, R-Ill., until this year when he took command of Neall's campaign.

With the race over, Almy is fielding questions for the county executive-elect and promises that Neall will reach out to the nearly 50 percent of the voters who preferred Sophocleus.

"Watch for the inaugural address," he said.

In the meantime, as one of Neall's top three advisers, Almy will be acting on the decision he made at Columbia.

"I didn't want to spend the rest of my life writing about what other people are doing."

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