Neall Makes World, And Himself, Guess

COMMENT

April 25, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

Here's a hot political scoop, straight from Anne Arundel County Executive Bobby Neall:

He says he might run for governor.

He also says he might run for comptroller.

Or a second term as county executive.

Or, he says, he might not run for anything and go for the big bucks in the private sector instead.

There you have it.

Forget the rumors. Forget the politicians who claim to be in the know and the political pundits who get their information from them.

As of April 25, 1993, Bobby Neall says he's not in the governor's race or anything else, and he's not out. All possibilities are open.

Up in his office on the fourth floor of the Arundel Center, Mr. Neall is alternately amused and wearied by the endless speculation about his political future by people who, he says, can't possibly know what he's thinking because 1) he hasn't told them, and 2) he doesn't know himself.

"No one," he says, "is going to put me into the race and no one is going to take me out of the race except for me, and I haven't come to that decision.

"Here," he says, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper. "I go through this little exercise all day long." He lists his four options -- governor, other office, re-election and private sector -- scribbles the pros and cons of each and scrawls question marks over the whole thing.

This much is clear: Anyone who thinks Mr. Neall has ruled out a run for governor is way off base. Otherwise, would he have asked that his name be included in a straw poll of GOP leaders regarding their gubernatorial preferences? Would he be driving all over the state to Lincoln Day dinners and other party functions?

"Do you know where I drove last Saturday?" he asks. "Oakland. If I were out, why would I drive in my car for 225 miles to a dinner when I've got sciatic nerve trouble and my back is killing me?"

The governor's job appeals to Mr. Neall in many ways. For all the criticism his restructuring of county government has spawned, he has loved doing it; the prospect of reforming state government, which hasn't been reorganized in 30 years, is extremely tempting.

Nonetheless, he's not getting in this race unless he is certain he will win. In other words, unless Rep. Helen D. Bentley takes herself out of the picture so he can have a bloodless, inexpensive primary. And unless the party backs him exclusively and helps raise enough money to put him in the Governor's Mansion.

"The point is not to be nominated and not to make a good showing. If I can't see my way clear to win, I'm not going to post" -- a fact sure to disappoint Republicans who would like a dependable gubernatorial ticket, as well as would-be county executive candidates who stand a far better chance if Mr. Neall moves on.

If he decides not to run for governor, his choices stack up like this:

* Other office: "If I were comptroller," he muses, "I could control the governor by telling him how much revenue he has to spend for four years, plus I'd have one seat on the Board of Public Works. I could park myself there for 15 years if I want to," then run for governor.

Mr. Neall is only 44, so time is not a pressing concern.

However, this is the least glamorous and least challenging of the four options. Not surprisingly, Mr. Neall ranks it lowest in terms of appeal.

(He hints that a run for U.S. Congress would be attractive, but rumor has it that retiring state Sen. Jack Cade is casting his sights in that direction. In that case, Mr. Neall would almost certainly defer.)

* Re-election as county executive: This is Mr. Neall's safest choice.

While his first 2 1/2 years in office have been fractious, to say the least, he has not made new enemies; he's just made his old ones more bitter. And while it's hard to gauge how the average citizen feels about what he's done to reduce government, there's a sense that most approve of such reform. He's justifiably confident he would win a second term.

Because he has nearly finished the dirty work of layoffs and budget cuts, a second term might give him a chance to shed some of his "bad guy" image. "Things might actually get better around here. I could do some warm and fuzzy things," he says, and still have plenty of time to look at higher office in 1998.

Here's the hitch: Bobby Neall does not find much satisfaction in doing "warm and fuzzy things." He likes solving problems. He relishes unpopular tasks. Four pleasant years as executive might bore him to death.

* Private sector/self-employment: If Mr. Neall wants to make plenty of money and get rid of a lot of headaches, this is the way he'll go.

Before his election as executive in 1990, he held a high-paying job -- much higher than the $75,000 he makes now -- as an administrator at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He says he regularly gets lucrative offers from the private sector.

Considering that he has four children, including several near college age, it's no wonder he ranks this option high on his list. Still, one suspects he ranks it a little higher than it truly merits. Mr. Neall is a politician, after all. And politicians value many things other than money.

In any event, Mr. Neall says he'll make the gubernatorial decision before he deals with the other choices.

So keep an eye on those chicken dinners. If he stops showing up, he's probably out. Otherwise, what Bobby Neall does next is anybody's guess.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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