Democrats apparently nominate lesser-known candidate in upset Owens leading Evans

incumbent Republican Gary applauds result

Anne Arundel Executive

Primary 1998

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

In an apparent upset of one of Anne Arundel County's most visible politicians, Janet S. Owens was headed to victory 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 chairman of the county council.

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

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

With 96 percent of the precincts reporting, Owens had more than 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.

Owens attacked Evans' switch from Republican to Democrat in April and advertised herself as the only "real" Democrat. Owens boasted of her support from traditional Democratic bases of unions and teachers.

Evans campaigned as a "new Democrat," with a centrist mixture of fiscal conservatism 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.

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 they could trust a longtime Republican.

The contest took an ugly turn the night before the primary when as many as 150 of Evans' campaign signs were stolen or slashed, said Greg Evans, who coordinates signs for the Evans campaign and is not related to Diane.

Owens' manager, David Sheehan, complained that dozens of their campaign signs also had been stolen.

Janet Owens early in the day said she was terrified the low voter turnout would destroy her chances. Standing outside the voting booths at Baldwin Hall in Millersville, she worried that, "So many people are so turned off by politics at the national level."

As she spoke, her 18-year-old son, Brendan Sheehan, rumbled up in a van, rolled down the window and asked his mom what she was doing.

The reporter asked, "Are you going to vote for your mother?"

"No. I'm not registered to vote," said Sheehan.

"See? This is what I'm talking about. Voter apathy," laughed Owens.

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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