Gary practices blunt style in Arundel 2 new faces appear on executive scene ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

Ever direct, ever ready to supply the perfect quote, Republican John G. Gary's gift of gab may be his greatest asset -- and occasionally his biggest liability -- as Anne Arundel's newly elected county executive.

When two Millersville residents objected during a campaign forum that plans to extend the life of the county landfill next door to them may violate health codes, Mr. Gary did not waffle.

"I'm sorry you bought your home near a landfill, but it's a buyer-beware market," said the candidate, who took 53 percent of the vote Tuesday. Because it is the county's only disposal site, "you'll just have to live with it."

"The fact of the matter is, we have to have that landfill, legal or illegal."

His frankness distinguished him from his opponent, Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus. Occasionally, Mr. Gary can be direct to fault. Sometimes, he can sound flippant. At other times, he offends, as he did earlier this year with anti-crime rhetoric that came off as inflammatory and divisive.

Mr. Gary became the early target of columnists and opponents when he warned that "these criminal elements are leaking across our borders, threatening our lives, our property and our quality of life."

"When you play to people's fears with themes like 'protect our borders,' you only heighten their anxiety," said Robert Agee, one of three Democrats candidates in the Sept. 13 primary.

"John is a direct sort of guy, but I think that's an asset," said County Executive Robert R. Neall, also a Republican. "People are looking for someone to tell them the truth instead of dancing and waffling all over the place."

Mr. Gary, 50, has made no bones about what he wants to do after being sworn in Dec. 5. Throughout the campaign he billed himself as a political disciple of Mr. Neall, who has spent four years paring and reorganizing county services in an effort to save tax dollars. "Plain vanilla government," Mr. Neall has called it.

"What you'll hear from John Gary now is 'plain vanilla is the flavor of good government,' " said George C. Shenk Jr., an Annapolis businessman and chairman of Mr. Gary's transition team. "People wanted as straightforward and conservative a government as possible and that's where John got the nod."

The comparison seems inevitable because Mr. Gary helped run Mr. Neall's 1974 campaign for the House of Delegates, and eventually took Mr. Neall's old seat on the House Appropriations Committee in 1986.

Tuesday night, Mr. Gary reiterated his intention to move forward with construction of a second county detention center on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie despite opposition by many northern Anne Arundel residents. And he said he would push immediately for state lawmakers to make him accountable for the county's public schools by allowing him to directly appoint members of the local Board of Education.

The latter proposal has drawn fire from the Anne Arundel teachers union, which worries that Mr. Gary will attempt to stack the school board with what they called "right-wing extremists." They pointed to Mr. Gary's conservative record during his 12 years as a delegate and earlier.

In 1978, after losing a bid for County Council, Mr. Gary became president of Watch, a parental group concerned about the moral values taught in public schools. Under his leadership, the group challenged a ninth-grade civics textbook called "Street Law" because it opened with the case about a group of survivors in a life raft who resorted to cannibalism.

The challenge failed.

As a delegate, Mr. Gary met with more success, pressing the state to relax its rules against home schooling, over the objections of teachers. He also attended in 1988 an anti-communism conference in Miami financed in part by the Unification Church led by the Rev. Myung Sun Moon.

Mr. Gary, a Lutheran, does not apologize for his religious convictions, but says they have no bearing on his role as county executive.

"What makes me laugh about this is that I never in the world thought of myself as being a religious right person," Mr. Gary said. "My pastor would laugh. I don't even go to church on a regular basis."

Mr. Gary, the son of a Navy chief warrant officer, grew up in Anne Arundel County. He has his own custom drapery business in Millersville.

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