Newcomer to politics struggling CAMPAIGN 1994

September 02, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Larry E. Walker is a neophyte. He knows it, he hates it. He hopes it will not matter.

Since the county police corporal entered the Democratic primary for county executive in January, he has won the respect of his five rivals -- all veterans of the political game -- with his grasp of issues, articulate delivery and commitment.

His campaign signs, with their patriotic stars-and-stripes design, dot the landscape around Annapolis and across southern Anne Arundel. He is airing a 30-second spot on cable television introducing himself as a 25-year police veteran, operator of a charter plane service and owner of a home improvement business.

Yet, two weeks before the Sept. 13 primary, he senses that that may not be enough.

During a live televised debate in Annapolis Tuesday, he appealed to viewers to vote for the candidate they feel is best suited to be executive and not to jump blindly on the bandwagon of one front-runner or the other.

"Sometimes, I feel like I'm wasting everybody's time," Mr. Walker said a day later, conceding that the trail ahead is uphill and steep.

Unlike most of his opponents, Mr. Walker has no natural constituency. He has never held public office and has not been active in any particular community groups. He started from scratch, developed a list of financial contributors to pay for the television spots and recruited volunteers to put up yard signs.

"It's been harder to motivate the public than I thought it would be," he said.

Mr. Walker, 48, an Annapolis resident and West Virginia native, came to the county on vacation in 1967 and never left. "We crossed the Severn River Bridge, and the floral beauty just captivated us," he said.

He worked brief stints as an accounting clerk for the Honeywell Corp. and a laborer at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. In 1969 he joined the Annapolis police force, and a few months later the county force with his younger brother, James.

Over the years, he has worked undercover vice and narcotics investigations, taught anti-drug programs and instructed rookie officers at the county's police academy.

Throughout his career, he has been commended for his extra efforts. He captured an armed bank robber five days after he started with the Annapolis Police Department. In the mid-1970s, he supervised the conversion of an abandoned missile base in Davidsonville into the county police academy. Although public works engineers estimated the cost at $500,000, Mr. Walker completed the job for $36,000.

"He's a good man," said former County Executive Robert A. Pascal, who tapped Mr. Walker for the job because of his construction skills. "He saved the taxpayers a lot of money."

Afterward, Mr. Pascal asked Mr. Walker to help renovate an abandoned building at Crownsville Hospital to house the Careers Center, a school for teen-agers in trouble with the law. Engineers estimated it would cost $3.5 million to prepare the building. Mr. Walker helped complete the project for $255,000.

County Executive Robert R. Neall closed the school in 1993 to save money.

For the past five years, Mr. Walker has encouraged the county Police Department to take to the skies. He has flown around the country collecting evidence about the effective police use of helicopters and airplanes.

After volunteering to work in a brief test program out of Lee Airport in Edgewater, Mr. Walker was appointed in June as the full-time coordinator of the Police Department's first aviation program.

"I remember the first day that I suggested we needed a police aircraft," Mr. Walker recalled. "These people looked at me as if, 'What the devil would you do with that thing?' Now, everybody recognizes its vital role. That's very satisfying."

It was during his campaign for the helicopter program two years ago that Mr. Walker decided to run for county executive. He was brooding over the changes Mr. Neall had imposed on the county work force.

He felt the wage and benefit concessions and budget cuts were partly responsible for the reluctance by police officials to embrace an aviation program. The changes also were responsible for a decline in morale, not just among police but throughout county government, he thought. That had led to complacency and declining public service, he said.

Mr. Neall, Mr. Walker decided, had chosen "to abandon excellence in services because of the tax cap."

"That was the night that I got my courage up to do this," Mr. Walker said. "But I suspect that I've had aspirations to do it for years."

Ironically, Mr. Walker has not made an issue of crime or the police department. But he has displayed a thinly veiled contempt for his opponents as they have discussed their law enforcement platforms.

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