New council leader held fast until tide turned

January 01, 1995|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

In the space of four years, Diane R. Evans has gone from being an outsider on the Anne Arundel County Council to its leader.

Until last month, she was one of two Republicans on a seven-member council with a Democratic majority. Now, she is chairman of that council with a Republican majority.

In her first term, she developed a style some described as strident, but that she prefers to think of as a voice of fiscal common sense.

"I had to fight very hard to get forth my positions on issues during the last four years," she said.

Over the next four years, she says she and the other Republicans will work with GOP County Executive John G. Gary to implement the conservative mandate she believes voters delivered Nov. 8.

"This election demonstrates very, very clearly that the message that I tried to put forth in 1990 has been resoundingly approved and applauded in 1994," she said. "And that's very gratifying."

Mrs. Evans, 46, of Arnold, was closely linked politically to former County Executive Robert R. Neall during her first term, and it was with Mr. Neall that she got her start in county politics.

She moved to Anne Arundel County in 1974 from Greensboro, N.C., with her husband, V. Jeffrey Evans, a former professor at Greensboro College she had met two years earlier at a Young Republicans event.

She quickly became involved in the successful campaigns of Mr. Neall for delegate, John A. Cade for state Senate and Robert A. Pascal for county executive. When Mr. Neall took office, Mrs. Evans became his legislative aide, a position she held for three years.

"We were accused in those days of being brother and sister. We had similar facial features," Mr. Neall said. "She's weathered the years better than I have."

She came close the first two times she ran for office, losing to the late Wallace R. "Chunky" Childs in 1978 by two percentage points and finishing fourth in the race for three District 30 House seats in 1982.

She went to work for the county as a support officer in domestic relations in 1980, a job she enjoyed, though it thickened her skin a bit.

"I learned a lot about people and . . . some of the more difficult aspects of life," she said. "They couldn't put anything past me."

She entered the race for the 5th District Council seat in 1990, when Carole B. Baker quit, and won handily. Mr. Neall, her political mentor, won the race for county executive. Her close association with Mr. Neall led some to call her the county's executive's stand-in on the council. But they were two public officials who shared a nearly identical philosophy, Mrs. Evans said.

"I didn't necessarily have to talk with Bob Neall to understand what he was trying to put forth," Mrs. Evans said. "I knew because it was the same thing I would have done."

And she didn't always agree with Mr. Neall, Mrs. Evans said, citing her opposition to Mrs. Baker's nomination to the county tax assessor's job. "I said this person is not appropriate, given her philosophy," she said.

Mr. Neall called any notion that Mrs. Evans did his bidding "a false charge."

Mrs. Evans got high marks during her first term for her attention to her constituents. She was considered so popular that several Democrats who were approached to run against her declined. The election results bore out that fear: She defeated Democrat ++ David DeAngelis by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent.

Albert Johnston, chairman of the Greater Severna Park Council's legislative committee, said that Mrs. Evans either attends all the meetings of his community association herself or sends her legislative aide, Chris Whittenberger.

"She knows what we're concerned with and she can anticipate what needs to be done," Mr. Johnston said. "Sometimes she has a problem solved before the people who have the problem get a chance to pick up the phone to talk to her

about it."

Despite her membership in the Severn River Association and her position as a commissioner on the state's Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, Mrs. Evans has not won the admiration of some in the environmental community.

"I don't think she's going to set herself up as a leader on environmental issues, since she was not an environmental leader" in her first term, said Mary Rosso, chairman of Anne Arundel Voters for Environmental Justice.

Mrs. Rosso charged that Mrs. Evans tried to water down the county's reforestation bill last year. And she complained that a committee Mrs. Evans formed to study waivers to the county's adequate facilities ordinance granted to developers was a "stalling tactic" because it did not include a moratorium on the waivers and led to increased development.

David G. Boschert, a former council chairman, said Mrs. Evans will have to adjust her style to lead the council in a bipartisan spirit.

"I don't think she should do only what the executive wants. There has to be a check and balance . . .," he said, adding that he believes Mrs. Evans will make the change.

In fact, many council observers say they already have noticed a change in her style.

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