Gary comment opens GOP rift He, Sauerbrey meet to restore party unity

December 04, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary, often a stranger to political diplomacy, has talked his way into trouble with the state's conservative Republicans.

On Monday, state GOP standard-bearer Ellen R. Sauerbrey traveled to Annapolis for a two-hour meeting with Gary in his Arundel Center office. The appointment came the same day as Gary's comment appeared in the morning paper that, as a Republican in the House of Delegates when Sauerbrey was minority leader, he "spent most of [his] time keeping Ellen from going over the deep end."

Sauerbrey's visit, scheduled last month, was not only to seek support from Anne Arundel's Republican leader for her 1998 governor's race, but also to head off a mounting intraparty argument that threatens Republican unity.

"The most important thing discussed was the fact that Republicans believe we have a unique opportunity in 1998 to capture the governor's seat," said Richard E. Hug, co-chairman of Sauerbrey's finance committee, who attended the meeting. "That's assuming we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."

It may seem early for personal lobbying from Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost the 1994 governor's race and has been busy heading off potential primary opposition in recent weeks. But Gary's comments, reported in The Sun, and the re-entry of former House Republican leader Robert R. Neall into state politics may have hastened her campaign timetable.

Gary's recent comments enraged members of the party's vocal conservative wing, especially in Anne Arundel where the Republican Central Committee is poised to nominate Neall to a state Senate seat vacant since John A. Cade's death last month. Neall, a former Anne Arundel county executive, is a prominent Annapolis lobbyist and business community favorite.

Conservatives oppose Neall's candidacy, which they associate with an old guard comprising Gary, Cade, Neall and other centrist Republicans who have worked with the majority Democratic Party to win capital projects and political points. While Republicans have made gains in recent years, the state Senate and House of Delegates still run more than 2-to-1 in the Democrats' favor.

At a reception Monday night for local radio host Maggie Williams at Vespucci's Restaurant in Annapolis, conservative Republicans carried copies of the paper with the offending passage highlighted. Sauerbrey attended the party.

"It was an unfortunate choice of words," said Arthur W. Downs, a Severna Park Republican activist.

At the core of the party feud is whether moderate, fiscal-first Republicans such as Neall and Gary -- a faction that feels it built the party from a back-bench nuisance into a legitimate state power -- will lead the GOP into the 1998 elections. Or whether brash, young followers of Sauerbrey, who view Gary, Neall and Cade as Democratic collaborators, will remake the party into a confrontational, ideology-driven front.

"You hear about a fight for the soul of the party, and this could be a bit like that," said Allen Furth of the Anne Arundel Young Republican Club. "Who isn't ideological when they are young? It's ideas that attract us. Bob Neall to some extent has the stink of the Democrats on him."

Sauerbrey supporters, unprompted by their leader, fear that Neall may use the post as a perch from which to run for governor in two years. Gary, who considers Neall his political mentor and one of his closest friends, has fervently promoted his candidacy for the senate seat.

The Central Committee is expected to select Neall on Saturday over Del. Robert C. Baldwin, the candidate favored by party conservatives. The first-term delegate is 14 years older than Neall and one of the county's best-known Republicans. But young conservatives say Baldwin's uncomprising posture fits with modern Republican politics.

Moderate Republican leaders who have campaigned on Neall's behalf say they already have lined up nine votes for Neall on the 13-member panel.

Neall will have to slash his lobbying firm -- with a client list including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce -- in half to take the $29,800-a-year senate seat. He said he plans to serve the remaining two years of Cade's term and run for re-election, although business leaders may look to him as their favorite gubernatorial candidate, which they did in 1994.

H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp. in Baltimore who encouraged Neall to run two years ago, has been helping line up a private-sector job for him, specifically a post at Johns Hopkins Hospital where Baldwin was once a trustee. Neall was a Hopkins vice president before becoming county executive in 1990.

"He's been a friend of mine for more than 20 years," Neall said of Baldwin. "He's something of a mentor to me. But it's probably an overstatement to think he's reading the want ads for me."

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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