The Gall Of Mayor Gullo

May 29, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson

Jack A. Gullo Jr. grabs his shades, forgets his jacket and breaks for the car. His jeep roars down an alley between his office and his home and pauses briefly at a stop sign beside the Methodist church before thundering on, clinging to the bends in the narrow roads of New Windsor, headed for the Carroll County town's municipal barn.

See Jack run: another day, another mission for Maryland's youngest mayor, who is 25 and started his four-year term one year ago. He's been summoned by Marie Grimes, wife of Town Councilman Kenny "Pappy" Grimes. Feeling frantic about a problem at the barn, she called Mr. Gullo's law office, adding another task to a list that includes fielding residents' complaints, keeping up with his law practice, preserving the town's water supply, and finding constructive activities for young people in New Windsor.

Diana Gullo, his mother and receptionist, had held the phone receiver away from her ear as she listened to Mrs. Grimes. "She said Kenny's really upset," Mrs. Gullo told her son as he rushed by her desk. "Go."

So now he's racing to the town barn where its manager, 79-year-old Councilman Grimes, waits to brief him about this day's emergency.

"They're trying to bury a dead dog on town property," announces Councilman Grimes, as Mr. Gullo hops out of the jeep. "I went down there to tell them they couldn't do that and this kid just starts cussing, just cussing. I called the police and then got you." Three or four people stand about 200 yards away, near the end of the dirt driveway beyond the barn, by the railroad tracks, preparing for the unfortunate animal's last rites.

Mr. Gullo looks to the sky and quietly asks, "Why did they call me?" He tells a mourner with a shovel, "You can't bury your personal animal on town property. Would you dig a hole in a park?"

"This was not a crisis situation," the mayor says later. "It wasn't like someone was down there with a gun to [the councilman's] head. It was a guy with a shovel trying to bury a dead dog. Kenny's a good guy, I know that, and he handled it the best way he knew how. And I had no problem going down there and telling [the gravediggers] the rules or whatever.

L "That's just the way it is. That's what I'm expected to do."

The expectations change daily for Mr. Gullo, but the job of steering New Windsor toward the 21st century doesn't rattle him. He understands that in a tiny rural community, few problems are too small or too large for the mayor to tackle. His predecessors were a 70-year-old school bus driver, a grocer and a barber. In this town, no one expected a 24-year-old law school graduate to become mayor, the second youngest ever elected in the state's history.

Mr. Gullo, a Republican, was the "seasoned" candidate in a two-man race; his competition was Matthew Purkins, an 18-year-old senior in high school who had not missed a Town Council meeting in about five years. The incumbent, bus driver James C. Carlisle, relinquished the mayor's job and won a seat on the council. While campaigning for mayor, Mr. Gullo was studying for law school exams. He graduated in the top fifth of his class at the Widener School of Law in Harrisburg, Pa. -- the day before he was sworn in.

Some of the town's many older residents griped about "those kids running for office." But when the registration deadline came and went -- to use one of the baseball analogies Mr. Gullo loves to throw around -- "no one else had stepped up to the plate."

"They complained that we wouldn't know what we were doing, but did you see anyone else get into the batter's box, take the initiative to run? No," says Mr. Gullo. "That's just the way people ,, are in this town, but hey, I got over that the first month in office."

He says he didn't enter the race to win a popularity contest. He knew the biggest task in "his domain" would be to control the development that is expected to double New Windsor's population of 800 within 10 years. More than 200 new single-family homes, two retirement communities and a new school are expected to test the town's resources.

So in his first six weeks in office, Mr. Gullo put limits on development to preserve the town's water supply. And he took over the search for new wells to supplement municipal springs. In his first six months, he refused to authorize construction on the town's new school until the county government paid water and sewer connection fees. (He waited in the county's accounting office while the check was cut.) And he started a program of weekend activities for 9- to 16-year-olds.

In February of this year, he addressed the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and compelled the audience of predominantly middle-aged men to make New Windsor's growth issues a top priority, if only for an hour or two.

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