Democratic contest for executive an upset Primary 1998

September 16, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

In a stunning upset of one of Anne Arundel County's most visible politicians, Janet S. Owens won last night over Diane R. Evans to become the Democratic candidate for county executive.

Supporters of incumbent Republican John G. Gary cheered those results yesterday. They dislike Evans, a long-standing rival of Gary's, and feared her name recognition as former chairwoman of the County Council.

Owens, 54, is former director of the county's Department of Aging and has only once previously held elected office, serving as a county Orphans' Court judge from 1990 to 1994, resolving disputes over wills and estates.

At an Owens campaign get-together last night at Baldwin Hall in Millersville, supporters cheered and hugged Owens when they heard that the numbers were tilting in her favor.

With all precincts reporting, Owens had 51 percent of the vote.

"I am really proud of this campaign. We started out with no one giving us any credibility and I'm so proud of what all our volunteers have done. Everybody worked themselves silly, the senior citizens, the teachers, the minorities -- it really was a Democratic win," Owens said.

At a Republican party at O'Brien's restaurant in Annapolis, Gary pumped his fist as if he had won when he looked at a chart showing Owens beating Evans.

"The lesson would be that the Democrats wanted to elect a real typical liberal Democrat, and they wanted the contrast between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican," said Gary.

Evans, 49, has represented the Broadneck peninsula on the County Council for eight years, but must step down this fall because of term limits.

In recent weeks, Owens attacked Evans' switch from Republican to Democrat in April and advertised herself as the only "real" Democrat.

Evans campaigned as a "new Democrat," with a centrist mix of fiscal conservativism and liberal support for public schools and environmental regulations.

"As a candidate, I am satisfied that I have done everything I can do," Evans said before learning of her defeat. "I have had the most dedicated group of volunteers. It's been fun and I have no regrets."

Local observers had explanations for why Evans lost, even though she had more money than Owens and the backing of Democratic stars from Gov. Parris N. Glendening to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

State Del. Phillip D. Bissett, a Republican from the 30th District, said the Democratic leadership had failed to convince average party members that they could trust a longtime Republican.

"She [Evans] has high name recognition and some good experience. But some Democrats will think of her as a Johnny-come-lately, while many Republicans are upset that she switched parties," said O. James Lighthizer, the county's Democratic executive from 1982 to 1990.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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