Dundalk Democrats refuse to warm up to more agreeable DePazzo Ruppersberger ally loses hard edge, voters' support

Primary 1998

September 17, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF Staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Fiercely independent Dundalk took one look at the new, improved Louis L. DePazzo and rejected what it saw in the Democratic primary, turning against the county councilman who had put aside his confrontational ways and cozied up to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Unpopular zoning decisions and a controversy over a plan that he favored to renovate a dilapidated apartment complex with public money contributed to the decision Tuesday by Dundalk Democrats to turn out DePazzo, 65.

DePazzo's surprising loss makes John A. "Johnny O" Olszewski the Democratic nominee to face Republican businessman Russell Mirabile in the 7th District, on the county's overwhelmingly Democratic southeast side.

DePazzo, who served one term on the council after four terms in the House of Delegates, was philosophical about his loss.

"So be it, we pass the baton. That's life, really. Politics is like life," DePazzo said.

Olszewski, 38, who spent weeks on street corners waving at JTC passing motorists, criticized DePazzo for his initial support of a plan to sell and renovate the Hidden Cove apartments using public subsidies. He also cited a DePazzo-backed zoning change that increased density for the Beachwood Estates development in North Point, despite the objections of neighbors.

Some voters also blamed DePazzo for construction of a Wal-Mart on North Point Boulevard.

"There have been a lot of changes," said Patricia Herman, president of the West Iverness Community Association. Although the association did not take a position in the primary, Herman said many of her neighbors voted against DePazzo because he did not forcefully oppose the Hidden Cove plan.

"Councilman DePazzo tried to make it clear that he would support what the community wanted," she said. "But the people didn't hear that."

Olszewski, who works for a firm that prepares autos for showrooms, pledged to fight for the southeast part of the county and actively champion the Democratic Party's platform.

He is vice president of the Battle Grove Democratic Club, which expelled DePazzo as a renegade after he backed Republican candidates in the last election.

His victory, by a margin of 56.4 percent to 43.5 percent, surprised longtime political observer Thomas Toporovich, the former County Council secretary. He speculated that DePazzo may have been hurt by comments portraying himself as Ruppersberger's political pet.

DePazzo, who had become an insider with a close relationship to Ruppersberger, said young voters may have admired Olszewski as an outsider who would fight the establishment.

"The youth movement had a lot to do with it. Young vs. old was purely a factor," DePazzo said.

Olszewski, however, disputed that assessment of the race. "I had support from the young and the old," he said.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican who is not seeking re-election, said DePazzo may have lost because he no longer was seen as the fighter for the little man.

"In this last budget go-round he would not talk to me about a tax decrease. Instead he said he was happy with all the things he brought back to his district," Riley said. "He lost his place as a protector of the little man. That's not what people elected Lou to do."

Riley also suggested that DePazzo's loss may indicate a weakness in support for Ruppersberger.

"What happened to Lou is an indication that [Dutch] is not as strong as he and others think he is," Riley said.

But Ruppersberger disagreed that DePazzo's loss reflects voter dissatisfaction with his administration. "My whole issue is pulling people together," he said. "I'm not trying to be a political boss. I'm just trying to do the job."

Olszewski, meanwhile, said his fight was with DePazzo, not the county executive. "There was never a problem with Dutch," he said, adding he expects to work well with Ruppersberger.

The upset was about the only unpredictable vote among the County Council races.

In the 4th District Republican race for council, the favored candidate, Wayne M. Skinner, a longtime state employee and community leader, defeated Kathleen F. Beadell, a real estate broker and president of Greater Timonium Community Council, to capture the GOP nomination for Riley's seat.

Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat and the only other incumbent to face a primary challenge, won handily.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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