DePazzo trades provocative style for teamwork

September 04, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Meet the "new" Louis L. DePazzo.

Gone is the rough, in-your-face Dundalk lawyer who built political success on unpredictable comments and crowd-rousing histrionics -- trademarks that earned him the nickname "Crazy Lou."

Gone is the politician who compared a federal housing program to the Mariel boat lift from Cuba. The politician who shocked county council colleagues by complaining that AIDS sufferers were getting too much federal money -- "Just get me a case of HIV, I guess," he said sarcastically at an April work session.

The new Lou is a quiet, low-profile team player, interested in working with other council members and supporting his county executive. According to his colleagues, former General Assembly mates -- even a few enemies -- it's a startling change from the tumultuous months after the Democrat's election in November.

"He's a changed man, or he's gotten religion," says Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican who initially was put off by the blunt, often vulgar, DePazzo style.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican who was in the DePazzo doghouse early on, adds, "I'm real pleased. I'm enjoying working with him right now."

Meanwhile, Mr. DePazzo, 62, expresses his new affection for Mr. Riley as only he can: "I'm going to kiss him on the lips!"

The balding ex-bricklayer and ex-Marine has made a career out of being a "character" -- sometimes intimidating, sometimes funny, but always colorful. He was an assistant county attorney in the late 1960s, a county magistrate from 1969 to 1971 and a House of Delegates member from 1979 to 1994.

The father of four grown children, he sold his law practice and retired as a lawyer several years ago.

And since 1970, when, as a county judge, he sent letters to Dundalk voters seeking election support for his patron state senator, Mr. DePazzo has been hard to ignore. Last summer, he grabbed headlines for his sometimes incendiary opposition to a federal program called Moving to Opportunity, which helped some residents of Baltimore public housing to move to the county.

"Words can feel like bullets," says the word-slinger, a man with tired-looking eyes and a wheezy laugh. But, he adds, he often regrets his comments. "I've paid for it."

Why the dramatic change?

"You can do a lot more, you can accomplish more, when you're one of seven," Mr. DePazzo says, referring to the seven-member council. As a state delegate, he was frustrated by the size of the legislature, often feeling that no one would listen.

Now, he says, "I can call, and get a department director on the phone."

Conversely, he quickly realized that being one of seven also can mean isolation for a councilman who constantly criticizes other members.

Mr. DePazzo's biting, often personal criticism of the last Democratic County Executive, Dennis F. Rasmussen, helped set the tone for the Essex Democrat's crushing loss in 1990.

"Dennis never called me," says Mr. DePazzo, who hates being ignored.

Things are very different with the current executive, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, however.

"Dutch introduced me to the concept of teamwork and team playing," Mr. DePazzo says. The county executive, in fact, has assigned Robert J. Barrett, his former campaign manager and a top aide, to be Mr. DePazzo's conduit to the top. So far, it's working, and has won the Dundalk councilman's loyal support.

How much support? He drove all the way to Ocean City and back on one day just to attend a reception Mr. Ruppersberger held at his beachfront condo last month during the annual Maryland Association of Counties convention.

Earlier, he risked his credentials as an anti-tax zealot, casting the deciding vote for Mr. Ruppersberger's plan to lower settlement costs while making most homeowners pay $10 to $20 more in annual property taxes. And he's refrained from criticizing the sharply higher salaries Mr. Ruppersberger is paying some new department heads.

Mr. DePazzo says the executive is the first one in his memory who is helping economically troubled areas such as Dundalk. His district has twice the miles of back alleys, for example, as any other council district, so paying a bit more in property taxes is worth getting alleys and streets repaved, he says.

Such votes, part of the new Lou, could cost him political support.

"He did everything he said he wasn't going to do," complains Ray Shiflet, one of the prime anti-Moving to Opportunity organizers and a former DePazzo ally. "He's going against what he said."

Others disagree.

"I hate to admit it, but he's going to be a better councilman than he was a delegate," says 20-year Essex Del. Michael H. Weir.

"He got smart, and it's about time," adds Tom Baldwin, president of the Battle Grove Democratic Club and no friend of Mr. DePazzo. The club expelled the councilman for two years for backing Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in last year's successful campaign for Maryland's 2nd Congressional District.

Even Jeanne Jung, Mr. DePazzo's opponent in last year's council election, has a left-handed compliment.

"I am pleased that he's not bringing embarrassment to the Dundalk people and the Dundalk community. He may make Dundalk proud of him."

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