Balto. Co.'s Riley uncertain about next political move Councilman vowed not to seek third term

GOP wants him to run

October 06, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Douglas Brooks Riley, an engaging but sometimes stubborn Massachusetts-born Irishman, has talked his way into a political dilemma for himself -- and for Baltimore County's Republican Party.

Riley, 44, a Towson Republican, is in his second term on the County Council and no opponent has emerged to challenge him in 1998. Some party leaders, including Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., call him the odds-on favorite in the GOP's bid to regain the county executive's seat in 2002.

But Riley said he feels bound by a years-old pledge not to run for a third council term. And now, as he weighs his next move, he risks ending his political career and eliminating one of the outnumbered Republicans' best hopes for a countywide battle with the Democrats.

If Riley, a lawyer, gives up his council seat "it would be a ruinous loss," said Richard Parsons, vice president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association. If the councilman were to change his mind, though, Parsons said, "I'd jump up and down and shout 'Huzzah!' "

Riley's two-term pledge, made in 1990, was based on a belief that burnout comes from any longer tenure. He said he might run for Maryland attorney general, or leave politics for now to devote more time to his family; his wife, Eileen, is a lawyer and U.S. Naval Reserve captain, and they have three children ages 8 to 14.

"I'm doing a lot of thinking about it," he said, adding that he would run for county executive "in a heartbeat."

But in 1998, that and several other options -- state Senate, House of Delegates, Congress -- are blocked by powerful incumbents, allies or friends. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, for example, was a close friend and ally on the council for four years and is a popular incumbent expected to run for re-election.

"Doug and I did everything together," Ruppersberger said. "I've always liked the guy."

Some fellow Republicans are concerned about Riley's two-terms-and-out council pledge.

"I've tried to talk him out of this," Republican state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer said. "I don't think Doug would burn out. I don't see any burnout factor there."

Baltimore County Republicans have toiled for years to build a party from the ground up -- with mixed success.

Overthrowing an all-Democrat government in 1990's voter revolt, they captured the top job with county Executive Roger B. Hayden and three council seats. Those seats, combined with the aid of renegade Democrat Donald C. Mason of Dundalk, gave the Republicans effective control of the seven-member council.

In 1994, however, Ruppersberger recaptured the county executive's job for the Democrats, and now Riley and T. Bryan McIntire, a North County-Owings Mills Republican, are outnumbered 5-2 and shut out of council leadership.

"It would be a terrible thing for the Republican Party if they left so viable a person as Doug Riley to die on the vine. We can't afford that," McIntire said.

Riley is exactly the kind of bright young candidate that older Maryland Republicans worked for years to recruit as a way to build the party.

"He was one of my young leaders group," said former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who wants Riley to run for council again.

"We are building a farm team, and I want to keep the team on the field," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a veteran county Republican who is running for governor. Sauerbrey said she might not run a full ticket, however, which could leave Riley on his own, without much campaign money in the bank.

That's one reason he has to decide soon whether to seek the attorney general's position.

Riley said, "That's a race I'm focusing on right now."

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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