State elections chief began long love affair with politics in '58

November 04, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Gene Raynor won't say what he thinks fueled yesterday's huge voter turnout. He's Maryland's election law administrator, and he says talking about things such as the economy might make him sound partisan.

But he wasn't at all reluctant to talk about what fueled him during his 21-hour day of media interviews, precinct visits, voter appeals, complaints, questions and vote-counts.

"Fresh mozzarella and prosciutto," he said yesterday afternoon as he made short work of a sandwich at a cluttered conference table at the city Board of Elections office.

"From a Republican store," he said between bites. "Joe DiPasquale's [Deli] in Highlandtown. Makes the best sandwiches."

"And sun-dried tomatoes," he remembered a minute later, after washing the lunch down with an orange soda. "Makes the sandwich. At one time it was peasant food. Now it's a delicacy."

You can take his word for it. Mr. Raynor, 56, grew up in Highlandtown, and probably knows former Councilman Mimi DiPietro's "Holy Precinct" better than anyone.

Mr. Raynor began his long love affair with politics in 1958 as a city elections clerk. He soon became close to Thomas "Young Tommy" D'Alesandro and later to William Donald Schaefer when the two future Baltimore mayors were still city councilmen.

In 1979, Mr. Raynor was named city elections administrator. And when Mayor Schaefer become Governor Schaefer in 1987, he named Mr. Raynor administrator of the state Board of Elections.

After 35 years in the election business, Mr. Raynor can be said to possess a legendary knowledge of Maryland election lore.

"It's amazing to listen to him," said Doris Johnson, a freshman member of the state board of supervisors of elections. "He's like an encyclopedia about voting and elections."

Generations of reporters have learned that he is a willing source of quotes, perspective and accurate predictions on voter turnout. Photographers have made his face -- usually with his trademark glasses pushed up on his forehead -- a familiar one at election time.

By 1:30 p.m. yesterday, when Channel 2's Deborah Stone held a microphone to his lips outside the city elections office at Fayette and Gay streets, he had already done 14 news interviews, and made 15 trips to visit and resolve problems at Baltimore-area polling places.

He was on Channel 11 at 6 a.m., urging early rising Marylanders to vote. By then he had already been up for an hour, dealing with a power failure at a polling place in Southeast Baltimore. He didn't expect to get home to bed before 2 a.m.

"It's fascinating. I love it, all phases of it," he said. "The politicians are interesting, but you get to meet people from all walks."

He tells a favorite story about Antoinette Pica, the wife of a former city councilman and mother of state Sen. John A. Pica Jr.

In 1983, when her son was making his first run for the Senate, Mrs. Pica made daily trips to church, and Mr. Raynor asked her why. "She said to me, 'Gene, I have to pray for my son to win the election.' "

But Mrs. Pica continued her prayers after her son won the election. Mr. Raynor told her, " You don't have to go. He won.' And she said, 'Gene, I have to go to pray for the boys that lost, and their mothers. I know how bad they feel.' "

Mr. Raynor, whose career has been closely linked to Mr. Schaefer's, has remained a steadfast friend during the governor's decline in popularity. When Mr. Schaefer turned 71 Monday, it was Mr. Raynor who took the governor and first friend Hilda Mae Snoops to dinner in Little Italy.

After the voting was over, Mr. Raynor said, his first call probably would be to William Donald Schaefer, as it has been after every election for 25 years.

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