Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus accepted defeat in the county executive race yesterday, more than two weeks after the voters elected Republican Robert R. Neall.
In a press release, Sophocleus "sincerely" wished Neall "success in the four years ahead" and announced he would not legally challenge the Nov. 6 poll results. But he stopped short of using the traditional "C-word" in a backhanded greeting delivered to the county executive-elect through a reporter.
"I never give concessions," he said with a laugh yesterday. "Of course I wish him well. I wouldn't want to see him screw up the county."
Neall, who has been attending strategic planning meetings this week with top county officials, has begun placing transition staff members on the public payroll. But his victory was held in political abeyance while Sophocleus toyed with seeking a ballot recount in the race that Neall won by 3,067 votes (59,314 to 56,247).
Sophocleus supporters had doubts about the county's new OPTECH II voting system because he fared much poorer than expected in heavily Democratic districts, especially his North County home base.
Sophocleus won by fewer than 700 of more than 13,000 votes in County Council District 2, which includes Glen Burnie. His margin of victory was also weaker than strategists and even Neall's exit polls predicted in District 3 and District 1, which Sophocleus represents.
But a sample ballot test last week in precincts randomly selected by the county Board of Elections Supervisors confirmed the original poll results in the executive and other races.
The only problem discovered was that a small number of ballots were not recorded by the system's optic scanner because some voters failed to use either a No. 2 pencil or a special pen provided at the polls. But there were not enough uncounted votes to affect the outcome.
Sophocleus still insisted yesterday that there is enough confusion among voters to warrant a full ballot recount, if only to certify the system in the public's mind.
A full recount would require a court ruling and would cost about $6,000, which Sophocleus no longer has any interest in paying. The sample ballot alone cost about $1,000, which was covered by the election board, its attorney, James Praley, said yesterday.
"I don't think there are any flaws at all," Praley said. "I think the system is a lot more accurate than the old automated voting machines."
David Almy, Neall's deputy chief of staff, said the new administration has full confidence in the accuracy of OPTECH system, which the county has leased through 1994.
Meanwhile, Sophocleus, a Linthicum pharmacist who gave up his council seat after two terms to run for executive, said he intends to stay involved in county politics.
"It's time for the county to move forward," he said. "Mr. Neall was elected and I'm going to be very active to make sure he meets his campaign promises and the county stays on track."
Sophocleus was given little chance of winning early this year, when few voters knew him outside of his council district. But he expressed no regrets about the election, which he came close to winning with the help of cable television ads that hammered home his commitment to community.
"Maybe they weren't nasty enough," Sophocleus said. "Whether that's a calculated risk that I lost on, who knows.