Del. John G. Gary Jr. became the first official candidate for county executive yesterday, saying he would concentrate on fighting crime and improving the quality of education in the county's schools.
Mr. Gary also vowed to continue the fiscally conservative legacy of Robert R. Neall, a longtime friend and political ally he hopes to succeed. Mr. Neall stood by Mr. Gary during his announcement yesterday morning at the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis.
"We have to be ever-vigilant not to allow this county to return to the high tax, big government type of attitude that existed before Bob came into office," Mr. Gary said.
Mr. Gary, 49, has been a member of the House of Delegates representing the 33rd District since 1982 and has been deputy minority whip since 1987. He sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which he called "the college education that you receive for government."
The Millersville Republican said he would try to avoid raising the county's piggy-back income tax to pay for future budget shortfalls, but instead would focus on enlarging the county's commercial base.
"I think we have to vigorously, and I intend to vigorously, resolve the problem of economic growth by expanding existing businesses in this community and attracting new clean businesses, which will ultimately improve our overall revenues," he said.
But Mr. Gary said crime will be his first focus.
"The first place that I'm going to begin, and I think this is the place that most people want me to begin, is by securing our borders against the criminals who would intend to invade our citizenry and cause us problems," he said. "I'm going to make our county the most inhospitable jurisdiction in the state for those who put our citizens and our children in jeopardy or at risk."
Mr. Gary said he realized that such a policy would increase the population at the county's detention center, making the need for additional capacity even more crucial.
"I have no hesitation of going out to the public and saying to them, 'If you want me to be tough on crime,' which I think they do, 'then you're going to have to support me in finding locations for detention centers and we'll build the things and we'll lock them up and we'll keep them there.' "
Mr. Gary said he is opposed to expanding the detention center on Jennifer Road near Annapolis to a 1,200-bed jail, but added that if the County Council ultimately decides on that plan, he'll support it.
County officials were planning next year on seeking $17.5 million in funding, $8.25 million of that from the state, to pay for the first phase of the jail expansion. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, however, has vowed to fight state funding for the Jennifer Road site.
Mr. Gary's public safety concern extends to schools, where he said that he intends to "impose a zero tolerance policy for any student who brings a weapon into the school system or who assaults a teacher, with or without a weapon."
He advocated taking disruptive or violent students out of the school system and said he would concentrate his efforts at the middle school level, where he perceives most of the problems occur.
Although many county political observers anticipate a bruising primary battle between Mr. Gary and fellow Republican John R. Leopold, Mr. Gary said he would take the high road.
"It won't happen on my part," he said, "because as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to run the campaign on issues. If he chooses to take the campaign to a different level, that's up to him."
But Mr. Leopold, who says he will not formally announce his candidacy until Spring, said Mr. Gary has already started slinging the mud.
"He has violated that already," he said. He pointed to a letter written by Edwin Edel, Mr. Gary's campaign manager, in the Oct. 10 edition of the Sun, which amounted to what Mr. Leopold called "a personal attack."
"He called me names, called me a charlatan, an ego tripper," Mr. Leopold said. "So that's the kind of personal attack which has characterized Mr. Gary's behavior for many years."
Mr. Gary runs a business consulting firm and a drapery service. He and his wife, Ruthanne, have three adult children.