Candidates unconvinced Neall is really out of race

May 08, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Even though Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall has insisted he is getting out of politics, potential Democratic and Republican candidates for the office continue to question whether he really means it.

At least three prominent contenders -- state Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat; Robert Agee, a Crofton Democrat and a former top county administrator; and former Del. John Leopold, a Pasadena Republican -- are hesitating to enter the race for fear Mr. Neall will change his mind and run for re-election.

"The biggest factor is if Bob Neall goes" for re-election, said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, the county's senior Democratic official. "Who the hell wants to run against Neall?"

"Objectively, he would still have the front-runner status, and he has the ability to raise a lot of money," said Mr. Leopold, who began campaigning countywide two years ago but has yet to say whether it is for executive or the General Assembly. "I will not challenge him."

Mr. Agee, who was chief aide to O. James Lighthizer when he was county executive, said he finds no solace in county political history. Twice before, Republican incumbents -- Joseph W. Alton Jr. and Robert A. Pascal -- have caught potential successors by surprise, announcing eleventh-hour re-election bids.

In 1970, Mr. Alton confounded two prominent Republicans who had been lured into the race -- then-councilman, now Sen. John A. Cade and then Sen. Jack Steffey -- by deciding to seek another term. "That really hurt the Republican Party for a while," Mr. Agee said.

Mr. Agee said he will not be convinced that Mr. Neall is out until the executive's key advisers and financial backers commit to other candidates.

The doubts have also affected campaigns outside the executive race.

Mr. Wagner said he needs to know now whether to include Mr. Sophocleus on a slate of District 32 candidates running with him in the September primary. The legislative district includes Maryland City, Severn and Glen Burnie.

Mr. Sophocleus said he is weighing whether to make a second run for the executive post -- he was defeated by Mr. Neall in 1990 -- or to seek election to the House seat to which he was appointed last year. If Mr. Sophocleus does not run for delegate, Mr. Wagner must decide whether to find another candidate to fill out the slate.

When the two met Monday, Mr. Wagner asked Mr. Sophocleus to make a decision within 10 days.

"It's not fair to make us wait any longer," Mr. Wagner said later.

Mr. Sophocleus said he realizes he must decide soon, without knowing whether Mr. Neall will enter the race before the July 5 filing deadline.

"I don't want to hinder their [District 32] campaign if I'm going to get into" the executive race, Mr. Sophocleus said. "If I decide to go forward, it has to be with or without Bob."

Meanwhile, Mr. Leopold has begun thinking about running for his old House of Delegates seat in District 31, which includes Brooklyn Park, Pasadena and portions of eastern Severna Park. He gave up the seat four years ago when he ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate.

The possibility that Mr. Neall could return to the executive race is one reason Mr. Leopold is considering another office. Mr. Leopold dropped out of the GOP executive primary four years ago rather than run against Mr. Neall.

Mr. Leopold also is worried that Mr. Sophocleus could be the Democratic nominee. A costly primary battle with Del. John G. Gary of Millersville, the only announced Republican executive candidate, and an expensive general election campaign would strain his financial resources, Mr. Leopold said.

"If it was a situation where the Democratic nominee was not that formidable, it wouldn't take that much money in the general election," Mr. Leopold said.

But a campaign against Mr. Sophocleus would force Mr. Leopold -- who describes himself as "fiscally independent" -- to spend large sums of his own money -- as much as $100,000 -- on the campaign.

"Although I have it, I don't know if I'd feel comfortable using it," he said.

Other potential Democratic candidates include William Brill, a former County Councilman from Annapolis; H. Erle Schafer, a former Glen Burnie senator and clerk of the court; and Larry Walker, a county police corporal and Annapolis resident. No candidate had filed with the county elections office as of last week.

Mr. Leopold said he has raised about $20,000 in campaign contributions and estimated that he could raise another $50,000 if he won the primary. However, he believes he would need at least $150,000 to beat Mr. Sophocleus.

Mr. Neall's campaign spent $460,000 in 1990 to win a narrow victory over Mr. Sophocleus.

Mr. Gary, who launched his campaign for executive last fall with Mr. Neall at his side, said he is confident the incumbent will not seek re-election.

But Mr. Gary said the Neall rumors have hurt his fund raising, because some Republicans are retreating from their commitment to him on the chance that the rumors are true.

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