Politicians take aim for comebacks Former officeholders see old and new posts in their latest bids

'They miss the adulation'

Callahan, Sophocleus, Neall among those returning to the fray

December 31, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel politicians never retire. They just form new campaign committees and run for another office.

Or so it seems in 1996, the unofficial year of the political comeback in Anne Arundel. Like Eddie Murray, who popped back into the Orioles batting order this year to slug in a few runs, a cadre of never-say-when county leaders has returned to the Arundel political clubhouse.

Former County Executive Robert R. Neall, who left public office two years ago for the supposed sanctity of the private sector, is now a state senator. Former Annapolis Mayor Dennis M. Callahan plans to run for his old office next year despite two previous failed attempts to recover past glory. And former County Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus is raising money for a race to be named later.

"Anyone who tells you they are in it strictly for public service is not telling you the whole story," said Callahan, a Democrat turned out of office by voters in 1989. "In office, you say things and people listen. Let me tell you, that's heady stuff."

Think of public office in terms of the Italian sports car syndrome. The car spends countless hours in the shop, exacting a financial and emotional toll on the owner. But sit in the driver's seat, rev the RPMs, and it is all-powerful, the center of attention.

There is no substitute.

"They miss the adulation and power they once exerted," said Celestino Casillas, an Annapolis psychiatrist who has discussed political withdrawal with former officeholders.

Some of the planned political resurrections are, in fact, reincarnations.

David G. Boschert, who served on the County Council for more than 10 years as a Democrat, is planning a run for the House of Delegates in 1998 as a Republican.

"You have to have the fire in your gut to serve the public," said Boschert, who lost a 1994 House bid as a Democrat in the Republican-majority 33rd District. "It's a thankless job, to be candid."

So why run again?

Probably not for the money -- $29,700 for state senator or delegate, $52,000 for Annapolis mayor -- which most say isn't enough to cover the emotional abuse suffered at the hands of angry constituents.

Says former state Sen. Michael Wagner, a Glen Burnie Democrat who served four terms: "I certainly don't miss getting beat around. Now people know they can form a group and threaten you. But the problem is that only the people [complaining] come out. The happy ones stay home."

The motivation, according to psychiatrists and sufferers, is part impulse to do good, part relentless need to satisfy expansive egos, and part quest for something not always evident around the family dinner table -- respect.

Sometimes, say the experts, returning to the political stage is the only way for former elected officials to maintain sanity.

"It's very difficult for them to go back to just being in their homes and with their families," Casillas said.

"The ones that don't return seem to be a little bitter," he said. "They feel left out."

So some get back in.

Neall himself has said the public views politicians as "junkies who can't get the needle out of their arms."

But politicians also seem to suffer from a susceptibility to flattery and a short memory.

"People have a difficult time giving up the limelight," said Sophocleus, a Linthicum Democrat who has twice run unsuccessfully for county executive. "That's hard to do away with."

But, he added, "hopefully people are coming back because they feel they have something to offer."

Callahan said he started receiving phone calls three months ago from supporters encouraging him to run next year for mayor, an office he held for one term.

Often too candid for his own good, Callahan lost a re-election bid in 1989 and again in 1993, that time as an independent.

"It was a tough loss because it was right in my back yard," he said.

So his standard answer to his recruiters was: "I've had enough. I've lost twice, and the message is loud and clear."

"It was nice and it was interesting," he says, "and I let it go."

But not for long.

One night he received three calls within 15 minutes. He turned to his wife, Brenda, and asked what he should do. She said, "If you put your mind to it, you can win this race."

So despite the "tough loss" of three years before, Callahan said that "one thing led to another and now we're pretty far down the road. I'd be very surprised now if I didn't run."

He added: "It may be corny, but I also love Annapolis."

Boschert and Neall say the impulse toward public service explains their comeback.

Neall was making a six-figure annual salary as an Annapolis lobbyist before replacing his mentor, the late Sen. John A. Cade, earlier this month.

Now the former House Republi- can leader will have to cut his business in half to comply with conflict-of-interest laws. For his financial sacrifice, Neall was thanked by a concerted attack from his party's conservative wing to undermine his candidacy.

Boschert, who turned Republican in 1995, says he misses the stuff most honest politicians admit to hating: constituent service.

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