In eye of the ballot storm, Raynor calmly presides ELECTION 1994

November 12, 1994|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Sun Staff Writer

As tabulation of ballots in the governor's race crawls forward, lawyers argue and politicians fume. But only Gene M. Raynor counts.

The 59-year-old state administrator of election laws is charged with compiling returns from Tuesday's election, and is supposed to present a state board with a final set of numbers Friday.

Despite the pressure to come up with the name of the next governor, intense scrutiny from political partisans and a lack of sleep, he seems calm.

"I believe in correctness, in absolute correctness in the counting of ballots," he said yesterday, rocking in a swivel chair at the Baltimore board of elections, his unofficial headquarters since Tuesday's balloting gave Democrat Parris N. Glendening a paltry 6,187-vote edge. The race hinges on the count of absentee ballots.

"I don't have friends and foes in the counting of ballots," Mr. Raynor said. "It's too important."

Some Republicans don't trust Mr. Raynor, a longtime friend of many of Baltimore's most prominent Democrats, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Mr. Raynor had breakfast with Mr. Schaefer on Election Day and dined with the governor last night.

"The Republicans aren't going to get a fair shake," said one supporter of the GOP candidate for governor, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who spoke only if his name wasn't used.

But Republicans who know Mr. Raynor well have no such concerns.

"Ellen doesn't have anything to worry about with the count," said David R. Blumberg, chairman of the city Republicans.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Blumberg was an upstart young Republican running for a seat on his party's State Central Committee. His election ended in a dead heat.

His opponent was a close friend of Mr. Raynor's. In the case of a tie, the race would be decided by other committee members -- and Mr. Blumberg had no chance of getting their support.

Mr. Blumberg couldn't pay for a recount, but Mr. Raynor -- then Baltimore's elections chief -- had his staff recheck the so-called "print packs," sheets of paper that bear the imprints from Baltimore's voting machines.

"Personally, he probably hoped his friend would win," Mr. Blumberg said. But the sheets showed that one election judge had made a mistake. Mr. Blumberg won by a single vote.

"Certainly, he votes and has opinions on political people," he said. "But as far as administering a fair election, I've never had any question."

"I know what his roots are and I know where his heart lies," said the Rev. St. George I. B. Crosse III, a Republican and former federal housing official who is helping to monitor the absentee vote count. "I think he realizes his job is bigger than his partisan roots. I think he has been statesmanlike."

Shortly after noon, a Baltimore elections board worker rushed up to Mr. Raynor. "They're starting a fight out there," she said.

He lurched out of his chair and scurried into the main lobby of the board, where board employees, Republicans and Democrats were sorting through absentee ballots.

"Put those [expletive] ballots down," shouted John A. Pica Sr., 70, a Democrat and former Baltimore councilman. "The ballots belong to the people of this state!"

Mr. Pica stabbed his finger at a young Republican, who looked sheepish. Other people shouted. But Mr. Raynor restored calm. He chastised the Republican.

Mr. Pica apologized for his language.

"We don't need apologies," Mr. Raynor said. "What we need is a continuation of the ballot-challenging process." Later, Mr. Raynor brought the two men together and had them shake hands.

"He's doing an outstanding job," Mr. Pica said.

About 6:15 p.m., Mr. Raynor had to play cop again when Sauerbrey stalwart Guy Sabatino heatedly charged elections officials with unethical behavior for opening several ballots before they had been OK'd by both sides.

"I don't know what this man is yelling and screaming about," Mr. Raynor said, coolly threatening to have Mr. Sabatino removed from the office.

The count continued.

The third of five children, Mr. Raynor grew up in East Baltimore, the son of an Irish-American father and Italian-American mother. After attending public schools, he received a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

As an 18-year-old Patterson High student, he landed a job at the city elections board. He was handed the job through political patronage, from former Southeast Baltimore state Sen. Joe Bertorelli.

By 1979, Mr. Raynor held the title of chief clerk of the city board. When Mr. Schaefer was elected governor in 1986, he named Mr. Raynor as state elections chief. The job pays $70,000 a year. Mr. Raynor holds the post through 1998, no matter who wins the governor's race.

Does he feel the pressure?

The administrator -- in his stylish black-frame glasses and crisp blue suit -- shrugged.

"It's the job and the duty of these election officials to remain calm and settle each and every situation that arrives on Election Day immediately," he said.

He's been through 20 recounts in his career. None has ever overturned the results he certified.

Mr. Raynor knows his counts are important, and not just to voters.

When Sen. John A. Pica Jr. ran for the House of Delegates for the first time, the candidate's mother went to St. Leo's Church in Little Italy every day to pray for her son. The day after Mr. Pica's election, Mr. Raynor met Mrs. Pica outside the church.

Why was she there?

"I have to pray for the boys who lost, and their mothers," she said. "I know how bad they must feel today."

Mr. Raynor nods in agreement. "I love politics, no question," he said. "I like the excitement of it. I enjoy seeing people get elected, to have their hard work in the campaign pay off. But I always feel bad for the people who lose."

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