Smooth sailing expected for Sweeney this election Primary wins leave judge unopposed

November 02, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Call it the campaign that isn't.

Dennis M. Sweeney organized a staff of volunteers, garnered political contributions, and printed thousands of campaign fliers -- expecting a heated race in his bid for a Howard Circuit Court judgeship.

But the incumbent is a shoo-in, barring an unexpected write-in campaign between now and tomorrow's general election.

5l Judge Sweeney handily won the Democratic and Republican primaries over two challengers last spring, capturing about 62 percent of the votes and making him unopposed in the general election for a 15-year term on the county bench.

"I'm not doing anything right now," Judge Sweeney said. "I'm assuming there's nothing I have to do. I'm devoting full time to my judicial duties."

But the Ellicott City resident keeps a reminder of how easy it could be for elected officials, even judges, to lose their positions.

On a shelf behind his desk in his courthouse office, Judge Sweeney keeps a wooden gavel that belonged to his father-in-law, Thomas J. Kenney, who served as a circuit judge in Baltimore in 1967 and 1968.

Judge Kenney was the first circuit judge to lose his seat in Maryland in a primary election -- and Judge Sweeney wanted to make sure he did not follow in the family's history. "That was a concern to us," he said. "We didn't want to have history repeated. That's why we worked as hard as we did."

The 47-year-old Democrat was appointed to the county bench in April 1991 to replace retiring Circuit Judge J. Thomas Nissel. State law requires judges to face a retainment vote during the next election after their appointment.

Starting this time last year, Judge Sweeney started down the road to re-election, holding fund-raisers and organizing a campaign staff.

In the weeks before the March primary, the judge conducted a campaign in the old-fashioned way -- appearing at community events, handing out nearly 15,000 campaign fliers, going door to door to meet voters, and spreading lawn signs throughout the county. He estimates that he spent about $30,000 on the primary. Well worth it, he said, considering that he is now free to coast in the general election.

But his strong showing in the primary has left him with some 5,000 campaign fliers in two large boxes in the basement of his home.

"Anybody who wants them can have them," he said. "There's not too many people interested in the resume of Dennis Sweeney." The judge said he will most likely cart off the fliers to a recycling center.

Before the primary, when most campaign preparations were being made, Judge Sweeney said he and his campaign staff didn't know whether the fliers would be needed for the general election.

"We were hoping there wouldn't, but we were planning for a contested general election," he said.

Judge Sweeney -- who never campaigned before -- faced two political veterans with strong ties to their respective parties during the primary. Charles E. Wehland, a Democrat, had run for state's attorney; Donald W. B. Messenger had run for a Republican Central Committee post. Judge Sweeney served as Maryland deputy attorney general from 1984 to 1991.

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