Steiner Hopes To Carve His Niche In Politics

The Prophet Of Slots Is Driven By A Vision

December 31, 1990|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Until July, few people would have known or cared about William J. Steiner Jr., owner of McDoogal's bar in Pasadena.

That was before he was bitten by the bug of public service and filed as a Republican candidate for county executive.

But as the year ended, Steiner allowed that now he is known by more people than he would care to mention.

During a year dominated by electioneering, Steiner, a political naif, pursued his dream more single-mindedly than other office seekers who might have been driven more by mere ambition.

Legalize slot machines, Steiner said, and the county would never go hungry again.

He advocated a slot for every pub as a way to tap a constant flow of quarters into Anne Arundel's economy and the county's bank account.

Never mind that the one-armed bandits have been outlawed statewide since 1965.

Once the voters get behind legalized gambling, Steiner said, nobody in the General Assembly would vote to keep the ban.

While his opponents struggled to balance competing demands for tax relief and more services, he had one simple answer for complex questions.

At one memorable candidates' forum, Steiner offered legalizing slot machines as the solution to everything from paying for lower taxes to expanding recycling programs.

But he had a problem other candidates didn't face.

Throughout his 42 years, Steiner had managed to escape the notice of the press. But once he filed as a candidate, his life became an open book and each new chapter seemed to compete for attention with the story of his political career.

However compelling his message to the voters, Steiner's legal affairs kept getting in the way of his legislative platform.

Two weeks before the primary election, he was convicted on charges of receiving stolen shotguns and household appliances. Had he won the election, the Arbutus native could have been booted out of office upon sentencing.

"That doesn't matter. I'm just human," Steiner said last week while sitting in Janice's, a Glen Burnie bar owned by his wife and named for her.

"You show me one person who's never commited a crime and I'll show you a liar."

Steiner maintains that he innocently bought the guns from someone he saw trying to hawk them in a sporting goods store. The appliances, he said, were left at McDoogal's by somebody else offering them for sale.

Steiner still awaits sentencing, hoping for probation before judgment.

He declines to talk about his financial affairs, which also led him to court in August, when he sought protection from unpaid creditors inherited from McDoogal's bankrupt previous owner.

Steiner nonetheless has few second thoughts about subjecting his life to an election-year microscope.

"I had nothing hidden," he said. "I knew this would happen when I ran for public office."

But he is less sanguine about events since he lost the primary by an 8-to-1 margin to Robert R. Neall, the GOP's anointed favorite son who now occupies the Arundel Center.

Clutching a handful of notices of future appointments in District Court, Steiner complained about the dark side of celebrity. Unfortunately, he said, political prominence has brought to McDoogal's a stream of people seeking to take shots at the big man.

"People trying to hit me or making me hit them," Steiner said. "(People) wanting to be a hero. 'Oh, I hit the guy running for county executive.' I've never hit anybody."

Steiner smiled from behind his salt-and-pepper beard and said that he's too big to want to get involved in fights.

Still, he faces three separate assault charges and the insult of court records listing him at 6 feet and 425 pounds.

"I'm only 390," Steiner said.

Despite the drawbacks, he is happy he ran for office and proclaims himself a prophet in light of recent efforts to soften penalties for illegal operators of video poker machines in Baltimore County.

When altered for gambling purposes, the devices serve as modern-day successors to slot machines. They typically generate $1,000 a week in revenue, which Steiner said should be legalized, taxed and split 50-50 with the county.

During the campaign, Steiner warned of a slot machine gap in which Anne Arundel would lose out to Baltimore County. Prosecutors north of the border have made prosecution against slot machines a low priority while police seize them as illegal contraband in Anne Arundel County.

But the slot machine bill filed by an outgoing Baltimore County councilman died last month on a 7-0 vote.

Yet Steiner remains convinced that slot machines are the future. He maintains that the counties should be allowed a piece of the action, just like the state lottery.

"Unless they want the liquor business to go bankrupt or go out of business, they have to do something," he said. "How can the state say no gambling when they have the biggest game in town? You can't say, 'Do as I say and not as I do.' " As for Steiner's own future, he said he might like to run again.

"What I need is some backing," he said, noting that Neall spent $400,000 through the general election, compared with his own few hundred dollars. "I think I can handle the county. I don't think any one person could screw it up more than what it was."

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