Neall supporters hoping for a change of heart

April 03, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Hoping to continue four years of what they consider excellent leadership, a group of top Republican fund- raisers has approached County Executive Robert R. Neall in recent weeks, asking him to consider a second term.

So far, Mr. Neall has resisted their pleas. Despite growing entreaties, including a private meeting last week, Mr. Neall made it clear that his decision in October to withdraw from the governor's race and from politics -- stands.

Mr. Neall, seemingly exasperated by the question, said he is approached by people on the street and at meetings, telling him he should run again for county executive.

"It's a daily thing, several times daily thing," Mr. Neall said. "And I'm sure their preference is for me to stay in politics. And they express it constantly."

Mr. Neall, who was the Republican front-runner and was seen to have the best chance to become the first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew, quit the race on Oct. 15.

He said he needed to find a job in the private sector to pay for his children's college educations.

Mr. Neall left no doubt that he has not changed his mind.

"The factors I used to make my decision in October remain unchanged," he said. "I have the same number of children. I have the same career goals.

"None of that has changed," he said.

Mr. Neall compares rumors of his political revival to rumors late last year that he would take a high-paying corporate position and not finish out his term as county executive.

Asked if he were giving any thought to the entreaties, he said, "No, I am not considering it."

But some Republican activists are hoping he'll change his mind.

"I know there are a lot of people . . . who continually are asking, 'How can we get Bobby to run again?' " said Don Riddle Jr., who was chairman of Mr. Neall's 1990 county executive campaign and his short-lived gubernatorial run. Those inquiries have intensified in recent weeks, he said.

Although Mr. Neall has rebuffed such efforts, "that has not stopped the people who would like to see him run again from knocking on his door," Mr. Riddle said.

Even Del. John G. Gary, R-Millersville, who is the only declared Republican candidate for county executive, said he would encourage his friend to run again.

"We've done some polling and he's so far ahead of everyone, nobody could beat him," Mr. Gary said. "From that standpoint, it's just a decision for him, if he wants to do another four years or not."

And there would be no hard feelings, Mr. Gary said.

"If he chose to do it, I wouldn't hesitate to step aside and run for my House seat again. I wouldn't think twice," he said.

Mr. Neall would be fairly well-poised financially if he did decide to run again.

His last campaign finance report filed in November showed $169,924 in the bank, and he has $7,255 left in his "Neall in '90" account. Financial reports show he raised $475,000 for his victorious county executive campaign in 1990.

Sources in the Republican Party said a move to recruit Mr. Neall arose after there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates who so far have expressed interest in the race, Mr. Gary and former Del. John Leopold.

In contrast, Mr. Neall is seen as a fiscal wizard who, despite a property tax cap and a recession, will leave a sound county government. He did that by making some hard choices, such as reducing the work force by 10 percent, eliminating some popular programs like the Careers Center for juvenile offenders and reorganizing the structure of county government.

Mr. Neall also has started some important projects during his term -- the $50 million Circuit Courthouse, a new detention center complex, an ambitious solid waste management program -- that some would like to see him complete.

"He could do so much better because he doesn't have the learning curve. . . . We've invested a lot in his education," said George Shenck, owner of Whitmore Printing Co. in Annapolis and a party activist.

But the fact that Mr. Gary is running to succeed him makes Mr. Neall even more hesitant to enter the race, those close to him say.

"Bobby supports John Gary," said Timothy Murnane, a Republican candidate four years ago for state's attorney and Mr. Neall's brother-in-law. "They're very close personal friends."

Although Mr. Neall has not endorsed Mr. Gary, he appeared at his side in November when he announced his candidacy for county executive.

Some who might feel the trickle-down effect of a Neall candidacy also are enthusiastic about a reconsideration.

"I would love to see it," said Robert Baldwin, owner of Reliable Contracting Co. of Millersville and a candidate for Mr. Gary's House seat. "I think he's done a great job."

The down side would be that a second Neall campaign would mean that several Republican candidates, including Mr. Baldwin, would have to find other races to run in.

"It'll cause a lot of tumbles as it goes down the line," Mr. Baldwin said.

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