Sauerbrey aides urge her to drop election challenge

January 15, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

Citing damage to her image and rising legal costs, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's closest advisers spent the day yesterday urging her to end her court challenge to the gubernatorial election.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Sauerbrey had decided to withdraw and a statement was drafted, according to sources close to her.

But after meeting with her lead attorney and others, Mrs. Sauerbrey had second thoughts, the sources said. No statement had been issued by late last night.

Mrs. Sauerbrey did not return phone calls yesterday.

After a four-day trial, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. on Friday rejected her lawsuit alleging that the November election was tainted by fraud and irregularities. Mrs. Sauerbrey declared then she would fight on, starting with an appeal to the state's highest court scheduled for tomorrow.

Yesterday, several longtime advisers told Mrs. Sauerbrey that her chances of winning were not strong enough to outweigh the harm she was doing to her image and the Republican Party's, and they urged her to give up the case, participants in the meeting said.

"I love her. I don't want to see her hurt," said former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly, who provided his Hunt Valley insurance office for the daylong meeting. "A lot of people have worked very hard, but I think there comes a time when you have to face reality."

Mr. Kelly said he told Mrs. Sauerbrey that he would not support her if she continued her legal challenge.

By late afternoon, Mrs. Sauerbrey had agreed it made sense to withdraw the appeal of Judge Thieme's decision filed Friday with the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mr. Kelly and others said.

She also had decided not to file a separate legal challenge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

She later decided not to release the statement -- at least not immediately -- after further discussions with her lead attorney, John M. Carbone, volunteers who helped conduct her investigation and others, sources said.

Mr. Carbone told Mrs. Sauerbrey that his investigators had found some new and potentially important evidence, sources said.

Mr. Carbone did not return phone calls yesterday.

Mrs. Sauerbrey filed suit Dec. 27 to overturn the election that she lost to Democrat Parris N. Glendening by just 5,993 votes of 1.4 million cast.

During the trial, her attorneys presented evidence -- gathered mainly by an army of volunteers -- on a variety of charges of official negligence.

While her lawyers showed that ineligible voters cast ballots and that the security of some voting machines was compromised, the case provided no compelling reason to throw out the election, the judge ruled.

Some of Mrs. Sauerbrey's supporters yesterday told her it would be hard to raise the money necessary to launch a full-scale federal case. They also said it was "irresponsible" for her to hold up the transition to a new governor, sources said.

In the two months since the election, Mrs. Sauerbrey's negative ratings have soared.

The number of voters who regard the former Baltimore County delegate unfavorably rose from 30 percent at the time of the election to 50 percent at the beginning of the trial, according to a poll last weekend by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia.

One-fifth of the people who voted for Mrs. Sauerbrey now regard her as a "sore loser," the poll found.

While many faithful Sauerbrey supporters blamed the court defeat on Judge Thieme's refusal to accept certain evidence, some acknowledged that their case could have been better.

State Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce L. Terhes said that the Sauerbrey case -- with its examination of the vote in Prince George's and Montgomery counties as well as Baltimore City -- was too broadly focused.

"If we concentrated just on those precincts where we thought there was a problem, we might have had time to get the information and digest it," Ms. Terhes said.

"When we started on this thing, we didn't know where we were going and how to get there," said Robert L. Flanagan, a Republican state delegate and Mrs. Sauerbrey's attorney during the campaign. "If we had some experience in this area, we would have explained it to the public a lot better."

Privately, some Sauerbrey supporters are pointing fingers at Mr. Carbone, an election law specialist from New Jersey who is being paid $50,000 a month to run the investigation.

After coming to town in November, Mr. Carbone assumed complete control of the investigation. "What Mr. Carbone wants, Mr. Carbone gets," read a huge sign in Sauerbrey headquarters in Cockeysville.

Last night, Mr. Carbone was among those suggesting that Mrs. Sauerbrey continue to fight, sources said.

Whether Mrs. Sauerbrey wins or not, her challenge will leave its mark on Maryland.

Because of the allegations raised after the election, legislators are talking seriously about expanded measures to assure electoral integrity.

Judge Thieme and the State Administrative Board of Election Laws last week called for an investigation into some of the more serious problems highlighted during the challenge -- such as the failure by the Baltimore elections office to purge thousands of ineligible voters.

Ms. Terhes said the court test, if nothing else, has showed her that the GOP needs to have poll observers in precincts throughout the state to make sure similar questions don't arise again in a close election.

"It's taught me a very good lesson," Ms. Terhes said. "Whatever happens, politics in Maryland will never be the same."

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