Sophocleus to run for executive

June 05, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Theodore J. Sophocleus wanted to be county executive four years ago. He still does.

Mr. Sophocleus, who narrowly lost to Robert R. Neall in 1990, said Friday that he will stage a fund-raiser for "countywide office" June 26 at Michael's Eighth Avenue. He said he will formally announce his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the Anne Arundel's top elective post then.

Mr. Sophocleus, 55, had a difficult time deciding whether to run for county executive or the House of Delegates seat he was appointed to last year.

Mr. Sophocleus was hesitant about entering the executive race, in part because it means giving up what could be a bright career in the General Assembly. Opponents and close allies agree that he has a far better chance of being elected to his House seat than of winning the executive race.

Even Mr. Sophocleus acknowledged that he didn't enter the race sooner because of persistent rumors that Mr. Neall, a Republican, would run for re-election.

Mr. Sophocleus noted that he is not the only candidate hamstrung by uncertainty about what other politicians are doing. Four years ago, most campaigns were under way by March. This year, it appears the season will not begin until after the July 5 deadline for placing a candidate's name on the primary ballot.

"It's the craziest election year I've seen in my life," he said. "It's so late, and so many people are still being indecisive."

Mr. Sophocleus is the most widely known of the current Democratic candidates and will have the backing of party leaders, including two state senators, Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale and Philip C. Jimeno of Brooklyn Park.

He also is the only one who currently holds office, giving him another advantage over his opponents. He was appointed to the House of Delegates last summer after Tyras S. Athey of Jessup became Maryland's secretary of state.

The other Democratic candidates are Cpl. Larry Walker, a county police officer and Annapolis resident; William Brill, an Annapolis security expert and former county councilman; and H. Erle Schafer, a Glen Burnie businessman and former clerk of the court. Robert Agee of Crofton, who was administrative aide to former County Executive O. James Lighthizer, has said he might enter the race.

Del. John G. Gary of Millersville is the only Republican to have filed for the office, but former Del. John R. Leopold has said he is considering a bid.

Mr. Sophocleus' opponents speculated that he hesitated to enter the race because he faces questions about his support as a county councilman for a 1989 ordinance that sweetened county pension benefits for himself, his wife, Alice, who was his aide, and other high-ranking county officials.

"There is a great deal of outrage about that vote among Democrats and Republicans," said Mr. Leopold, a Pasadena resident. "It was an egregious vote that demonstrated a willingness to feather his own nest at the public expense."

Mr. Brill agreed, saying he couldn't see how Mr. Sophocleus "gets out from under . . . the pension cloud."

Still, Mr. Sophocleus was a popular councilman, winning endorsements four years ago from county workers' unions and environmental groups. He raised nearly $400,000 to finance his last campaign.

He lost to Mr. Neall by 3,000 votes of 115,000 cast, a margin of less than 3 percentage points.

More recently, he was impressive as a freshman lawmaker in the General Assembly.

When the House began its three-month term in January, Mr. Sophocleus jumped into the fray with both feet.

"He made about the fastest, most impressive transition of any freshman I have ever seen," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Hagerstown Democrat. "If he stays in the legislature, he is definitely a comer."

He spoke eloquently and often in committee and on the House floor, an intimidating place where freshmen -- and some longtime -- delegates rarely rise to speak.

Mr. Sophocleus served on the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, which hears proposals on campaign rules, local government and land use.

"There were clearly some niches that were his turf," said Mr. Poole, a former House majority leader who served on the same committee. "By the end of the three months, we were deferring to him on a lot of those things."

"That's true except for the fact that he could hardly be considered a freshman," said Del. Gerald J. Curran, a Baltimore Democrat who is the committee chairman. "It wasn't as if he just walked in off the street without any government experience."

Mr. Sophocleus was a passionate advocate on the floor for, among other things, a proposal designating English as the state's official language.

Mr. Poole, a former House majority leader, said he knew nothing of Mr. Sophocleus before the session except what he had read in the newspaper about his 1990 campaign for county executive.

"Following that race, I did not expect to be overwhelmed or impressed with Ted Sophocleus," Mr. Poole said. "I was wrong."

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