Robey hopes to replace Ecker Police chief to retire and start campaign for county executive

December 30, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey, a Democrat who for months has talked of entering politics, made it official yesterday: He will retire Jan. 9 to run for county executive.

Robey, a 56-year-old Howard native, plans to announce the beginning of his county executive campaign four days later at the Roger Carter Recreation Center in Ellicott City.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker did not immediately name a new police chief. But Ecker said that next week he likely will name one of Robey's deputies, Maj. Wayne Livesay or Maj. Mark Paterni, as acting chief through 1998.

"I'm interviewing both Maj. Paterni and Maj. Livesay, and don't know yet," Ecker said.

Robey, a Howard policeman for 31 years and chief for the past six, will enter the county executive race with no experience in electoral politics, no record on issues and no campaign money.

By most measures, that will put him behind the Republican candidates for the office, Councilmen Dennis R. Schrader and Charles C. Feaga, who already have assembled campaign staffs and raised tens of thousands of dollars.

But Democrats see Robey, who is unlikely to face a primary challenge, as their best hope -- even though they acknowledge knowing little about his politics aside from party affiliation.

"This is a really good candidate for a really important post," said Carole Fisher, Howard Democratic chairwoman. "I'm really excited."

Asked about Robey's positions on issues, she replied, "I don't know a lot about Jim Robey."

Robey offered no clues yesterday. "That's premature right now," he said, adding that he plans to reveal his campaign themes at his formal announcement Jan. 13.

The key to Robey's appeal -- at least among Democratic activists -- has to do more with his credentials than his positions.

He's a Howard native. He's an affable, efficient administrator. And he's a policeman, a symbol of law-and-order in a county where the fear of crime -- if not crime itself -- is rising.

Democrats hope Robey can be their version of Ecker, who was a well-liked school administrator with no electoral experience when he challenged -- and beat -- then-County Executive Elizabeth Bobo in 1990.

"From watching [Robey] over the course of time, I think he's going to be a good candidate," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Columbia Democrat. He called Robey "an apolitical kind of candidate."

Robey grew up in Daniels, a small town north of downtown Ellicott City, and attended Howard High School. He joined the Police Department as a patrolman in 1966, a time when the department had its headquarters in what is now Roger Carter Recreation Center.

Ecker appointed Robey chief in 1991 and stood by him through embarrassing episodes such as a botched sting on massage parlors and a national television interview in which Robey said he would trust a polygraph machine more than an alleged rape victim.

Howard officials of both parties call Robey a good chief.

"I'm very pleased with his work as police chief and think he's served the county and served me very well," said Ecker, a Republican.

Robey has also maintained his rapport with officers and the police union, which helped topple his two predecessors as chief.

"He's been a very good chief," said police union president John Paparazzo. "He's very people-oriented."

Robey, who earns $98,719 a year as chief, will use vacation time to remain on the county payroll until April 15. That will also protect his eligibility for a new retirement package likely to pass Monday. It would bolster his annual retirement payments by $4,500 a year.

Yesterday, Robey said his major accomplishments as chief included the installation of cameras to catch red-light runners and his initiatives against juvenile crime.

He also acknowledged some jitters about entering politics.

"I'm obviously headed for uncharted waters for me," Robey said. "I'm very excited and a little apprehensive."

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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